The Meisner Technique

At the Terry Knickerbocker Studio, Sanford Meisner’s approach to acting is at the heart of our teaching and overall philosophical approach to actor training.

What is the Meisner Technique?

A technique which emphasizes the actor’s imagination (rather than their biographical history) as the primary source of their creative work, and helps actors “get out of their head” and learn to follow their impulses.

The Meisner technique challenges you to leave your preconceived, conventional ideas at the door and act instead with truthful, organic, and spontaneous behavior. Through this philosophy and practice, you will gain the confidence to walk into any room and consistently give a performance that is richly sourced in spontaneity and truth.

Your identity meets the craft and becomes art.

Meisner acting classes contain a core series of exercises that build upon each other in order to create rich, authentic, and compelling behavior, no matter what script an actor is working from.

The Meisner technique focuses specifically on the behavior of an actor and incorporates four main components:

  • Listening
  • Responding truthfully
  • Emotional availability
  • Imagination and Improvisation
Meisner taught his technique in two-year conservatories, and TK Studio carries on this tradition with our Two-Year Professional Acting Conservatory. As Meisner liked to say: “The first year is about putting money in the bank. The second year is about learning to spend it wisely.” Our Career Essentials, continuing the metaphor, is about learning to invest that money in ways that will pay dividends into the future of your acting career.

Our Approach to the Meisner Technique

Terry Knickerbocker is part of a direct lineage that connects back to Meisner himself. Seeking a path forward in his acting career that celebrated the voice and imagination of the individual, Terry first discovered the Meisner technique in his training with William Esper. Esper was widely regarded as the most renowned Sanford Meisner-trained instructor, and he imparted his knowledge of the Meisner technique to Terry over years of studio work and observation.
Terry has since worked hand-in-hand with award-winning actors throughout his years of teaching the Meisner technique, including some of today’s brightest and inspirational performers like Sam Rockwell, Leslie Bibb, Boyd Holbrook and many others. He teaches both talented students and working professionals from around the world how to learn the Meisner technique.
While the Meisner technique is a structured and codified curriculum that is standard across the industry, Terry and the teachers he has trained have a unique approach to the subject matter; above all, their approach is driven by a firm and abiding belief in the importance and value of art and artists in the world.

At the Studio, we see all of our students as artists in training, preparing to tell important and necessary stories in the world with excellence and heart. All of the faculty are attuned to the voices and growing edge of each student and take great joy in facilitating the process of individual transformation. There is no cookie cutter approach here. 

Using the Meisner acting technique and our holistic approach to training, we teach you how to consistently access your unique talent while at the same time equipping you mentally, physically, and emotionally for the rigors of training and working as an actor. TK Studio provides the best of Meisner through its philosophy of supporting your hard work and providing a warm, inviting, collaborative, and passionate community.

The benefits of the Meisner technique are varied, but most importantly, training at this level, and with this faculty, means that you will be prepared to tell the most important stories of our day at the highest level of excellence with a finely trained instrument: heart, mind, body, and voice.

History of the Meisner Technique and Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner, a Brooklyn native, was originally trained as a pianist at the Damrosch Conservatory, (which later became the renowned Juilliard School); it was his love of acting, however, that ultimately led to his life’s work as a master teacher of acting.

Meisner was a founding member of the famed Group Theatre, working alongside such theatrical luminaries such as Lee Strasburg, Stella Adler, and Harold Clurman. The Group was powerfully influenced by the work of Stanislavski, whose early training approach endures as “Method Acting” today. While Meisner tried to use this approach, he also questioned it.

In 1934, Stella Adler met with Stanislavski in Paris, and he offered a revision of his initial training, which was much more focused on the actor’s imagination, rather than their history. This newest approach of Stanislavski was much more appealing to Meisner, and he began to develop a method of acting that married this reliance on the imagination with a series of progressive exercises—starting with his famous “repetition exercise.” It is clear that the discipline of constant and progressive practice he learned as a pianist was critical in the creation of his new approach to training actors.

Meisner developed his technique as a way to create more impulsive and emotionally rich acting—less intellectual and more organic.

Meisner taught his technique for over 65 years before his death in 1997. During that time, he worked with countless lauded actors and actresses including Gregory Peck, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Joanne Woodward, and Peter Falk. His legacy lives on in the actors he trained, and in the instructors like Terry Knickerbocker who are putting their stamp on the method as the world of theater changes and grows.

Meisner and the Modern Actor

While we are grateful for the rich scaffolding Meisner created, in order to cultivate the “brave space” all actors need to do their work—in ways that don’t inflict harm to themselves or others—significant adjustments must be made in the classroom. The teaching and the work need to be trauma-informed and consent-based. This pedagogical orientation allows us to enter the imaginary with a joyous sense of play, curiosity and connection.

TK Studio is fiercely committed to these values and we therefore require all students to go through theatrical intimacy training as well as workshops and trainings related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. Please read more about our commitment to DEIB practices and norms.