In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges in acting is how to approach ’emotional preparation’, and as such, I feel that is the area that varies the most between techniques. Truth be told, this is pretty much what all acting coaches are going for…a reliable, repeatable method of achieving appropriate, realistic emotions to fit the scene.
Now, I’m quite biased here, but I have seen quite a few of these techniques put into play and I’m still convinced that Sanford Meisner’s is the most effective. It is for me the most grounded, and more importantly, the most repeatable method that I’ve seen used.
I feel many techniques fail mostly due to two factors:
1- They are too external.
2- They are too internal.
Allow me to elaborate…in the first example, I’ve seen many acting schools preach the benefits of ’emotionalizing’ through external means. That is, your emotional preparation is to come from ‘infusing’ some object, such as a scarf, or a painting, or even a room with associative memories. Now, this can work, but much like hearing a favorite song over and over, it eventually loses it’s ‘punch’. Not to mention the fact that if it’s not working like you had hoped, you’re then spent focusing your very valuable attention on an object. And, as we all know, an object is not an emotional thing.
In the second example, being too internal can work as well…just look at all the ‘method’ folk out there. The difference here is that instead of finding emotional preparation by infusing something external, the actor is asked to recall personal emotional memories from which to draw from. The big problem here is that, often things that really troubled us say, fifteen years ago, may not be such a big deal now. Plus, you are now placing your very valuable attention on yourself. Remember the last time you talked to someone that only thought of themselves? I think we call those people ‘self-absorbed’ to be nice…boring usually comes to mind for me though.
This is where the Meisner technique fills the gap. Instead of external measures, or pounding your emotional past into the dirt, Mr. Meisner suggested that you use your imagination to find your emotional preparation. Here the actor is always able to adapt, because our imagination is limitless. Plus, once imagined, we are now free to place all of our very valuable attention on our scene partner! And, if you doubt the power of your imagination, just start imagining your spouse, lover (or whatever) cheating on you.
Really picture it happening and with whom.
Now tell me you don’t feel something! And that’s just one example! The beauty here is that you know what it makes you feel, it’s honest and you don’t have to think about it. That gives you all the time in the world to focus on what’s really important…what you need to do, why you need to do it and with whom you are dealing with.