August 31, 1905 - February 2, 1997
Sanford "Sandy" Meisner taught acting for over 60 years. He was one of the original members of the legendary Group Theatre. He continually innovated in his classroom as he searched for the most simple, direct, and effective way to train each individual actor in the difficult craft of acting. For a fuller understanding of Meisner's life, read the book, De A Tree We, written by Jimmy Carville and Scott Trost.
Born in Brooklyn
August 31, 1905
Sanford "Sandy" Meisner was the oldest child of Hermann and Bertha Meisner, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. The father worked as a furrier. The picture shows Sandy with his parents and his younger sister, Ruth. Two more boys were born, Jacob and Robert. Jacob died from bovine tuberculosis as a baby - an event that deeply traumatized Sandy as he believed that his parents blamed him for his brother's death. Sandy took up the piano and attended the Damrosch Institute of Music to become a concert pianist. Hermann wanted Sandy to follow him into the furrier business. But Meisner had a different plan. He wanted to be an actor.
Meisner Joins The Group Theatre
August 20, 1931
Meisner is invited to join the Group Theatre, a collection of young actors and directors. In the summer the group trains outside New York City using for their inspiration the deep tradition of the Yiddish theater. They also look to the work of Constantin Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre. The Group Theater produces a series of plays with acting that attains a new level of authenticity, passion, and truth. These performances forever change in the US the notion of what good acting should look like. From the group emerges a generation of great acting teachers that shape the way acting is taught in the US - Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, and Lee Strasberg. The Group Theatre also produces several other great figures of American theater and film - the playwright Clifford Odets, the director and historian Harold Clurman, and the stage & film director Elia Kazan.
Meisner Begins His
Sixty Year Teaching Career
Meisner begins teaching acting in New York City. Much of his work is at the Neighborhood Playhouse but conflicts within this program lead him to teach at several studios during his teaching years in New York. During this time he meets his life-long partner, James “Jimmy” Carville and the pair raise a son, Boolu, an abandoned deaf boy they find on the Caribbean island of Bequia. With Jimmy’s encouragement, Meisner sets up acting programs in Bequia where Sandy and Jimmy spend their winters, and finally in Los Angeles, where the pair open up the Meisner/Carville School of Acting in 1985. During his years teaching, Meisner handpicks some 20 of his students to apprentice with him to learn his approach to actor training. Some 37 of Meisner's students go on to become nominated for Oscars. The great American playwright, Arthur Miller, comments that he can always tell when one of the actors auditioning for his plays was trained by Meisner. Sydney Pollack, the Oscar-winning director, works as Sandy’s assistant and credits Meisner with everything he learns about directing. The great American playwright, David Mamet, also is an assistant to Sandy and credits Meisner for Meisner's influence on Mamet’s work.
Meisner Passes Away
But His Legacy Continues
Sanford Meisner passes away in Los Angeles on February 2, 1997 at the age of 91. Despite being hit by a van in New York City, driving a car off a cliff in Bequia, enduring multiple surgeries for cancer that required him to learn to speak through a hole in his throat, Meisner taught until the end of his long life. The teachers who trained with him continued teaching his approach. These teachers taught a second generation of Meisner teachers and the second generation taught a third generation, each generation and teacher adding their own exercises and innovations. Now Meisner’s approach to actor trainin, is taught, in multiple variations, around the world on every continent.
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