Improvisation- Meisner notes.docx

Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
Course Code
David Roberts

of 3
Improvisation- Meisner article:
***This article is actually a journal of various days of improv classes taught by Meisner and his interaction
with the students
o The article opens with a piece about day-dreaming by Freud which states:
Unsatisfied wished are the driving power behind fantasies; every separate fantasy contains
the fulfillment of a wish and improves on unsatisfactory reality
February 6th:
o “You see a suit you like very much but can’t afford, and you buy it anyway- what kind of person are
o Impulsive, or foolhardy. That would be the essence of one internal component of the character”
o “there are two components of the character [a woman who wishes to destroy men because of her
hatred, she also wants to be beautiful to entice them]: the inner component, which determines the
kind of person she is, a destroyer of men, which is dictated by Striandberg [a character] and which
the actress intuitively extracts from the written text; and an outer component, the external portrait
epitomizing her wish to be beautiful
o A student asks about accents, are they inner or outer components?
A man from France recently arriving to America, would have a distinct accent, but a man
who has lived here for years, a trace. But neither circumstance would mitigate the fact that at
heart he is French- at your [the students] early work, you must rely on your instinctive
reaction to the playwright’s text”
o You ask friends to go for a drink: one says “Yeah I do!!”, the other, “yes”[ pause pause] “I do”.
“Their words are the same but are they the same? Or do they have two different characters?”
“One is impulsive, the other cautious”
o “You have just come from a situation of your own intervention out of which you must get a
preparation. Preparation is self-stimulation. Your nature, your instinct, dictates the preparation you
“If you just got a part in a show, your preparation could be divinely happy or mystified you
got the part”
o When creating a make-believe situation (to act) you must try to make it real so it can move you
o Is it better to come in with a feeling or purpose? You could know the preparation or “ride it”
o [Students do a mini play] “How could it have been more interesting?”
“You could have learned speech with a particular accent out loud or done it with a particular
“Don’t plain memorize- you must learn to make your independent activity more involving
and interesting to you”
o “One must allow what exist to affect you rather than working out of your head- what you think should
exist- so that you’re working from an actual moment. This is to use what exists”
o “You see, this exercise [using what exists] adds another dimension. The actor doing the independent
activity is not just being interrupted. Rather he is confronted by his partner whose inner life, because
of his preparation is compelling and persuasive. The partner enters the room with emotion, and the
two of the, reach to each other- moment to moment”
o If you don’t bring full enough emotion, what does this mean? “it means I didn’t generate honest,
strong feeling that overwhelmed me”… “I would need a better situation, that moves me”
Then Meisner says to the student “then you improvise”
o To improvise is to talking to sound like dialogue, with less sounding like repetition
It adds stronger, fuller preparation
o Earlier [beginning training for students] emotional preparation was anything you imagined to set
yourself emotionally, but now we have to give it justification”... “it strengthens us” … “makes it more
o One student then explains how “we have been trained since we were children to be restrained
emotionally (at least some of us) and every day we are constantly aware of what our proper
limitation are. We always know what our boundaries are and it difficult to break them, even in an
acting class. But emotional freedom gets easier when you try going along the path your inner life is
sending you”
February 9th:
o Preparation can be more provocative if it more meaningful and specific.
Meisner explains this point by describing the beginning of Hamlet (father is murdered by
uncle- hardcore emotions!!)
o “You know one thing that’s constant in a brick wall is that a brick is a brick is a brick is a brick
What does that mean? It’s never anything other an a brick. It’s that the basis of the
performance is the fundamental reality (you had today)
o “You have got to get a reaction from inside yourself, and the more complicated it is the more difficult
it is to get involved emotionally
Don’t allow it to become complicated, just be “a brick a brick a brick”.
But then take that and prepare and create fullness
“Simplicity is essential, don’t clutter yourself”
o One student is nervous to answer questions in a dialogue for fear of being “stuck”
Meisner asks him simple questions and begins a dialogue
“What colour are your socks?” … “Do you have another name other than Bruce?”
The student expresses concern for being [answering] repetitive
Meisner shows that even with lying (as to not give away the preparation) you can create a
conversation and natural dialogue
o Meisner then goes on to explain “theatrical repetition”
“In the beginning the mindless repetition of the basic exercised value [A: what time is it?
B:”what time is it?] . It eliminated a need for you think and to write a dialogue out of your
hear in order to keep talking-as if acting were talking, which it is not. And the illogical nature
of the dialogue opened you up to the impulsive shifts in your instinctual behavior caused by
what was being done to you by your partner, which can lead to real emotion. Now I am
saying we have moved beyond the fundamental. Now it’s possible to responds reasonably. So
if your partner asks you what time it is for God’s sake look at your watch and tell them!”
o One student comes into a room huffing and puffing, their partner asks them whats wrong, the huffer
ignores them and curls up on the bed in a ball
Mesiner asks what huffer student was running from, he says “someone who swore at me and
chased in the subway”
Mesiner responds “too general, not specific”… “you assumed fear”. He explains he wants the
students to feel the meaning of their piece (ex. Being instead chased by a cop because… and
they were coming to collect him)
o “Don’t act out what you see on television” (it must be your own). “What makes it believable?””
“Your emotional behavior, it’s the reality of the emotion that makes the lie convincing
o Mesiner uses the word full or fullness which he wants to see in a piece, this is relatable to depth
February 16th:
o Mesiner in front of all the students ask them if they feel they are learning nothing. Stunned no
students move or say anything. Mesiner then points out a student (who has been struggling) and asks
if his is learning, the boy is embarrassed but ultimately says no. Mesiner asks him to leave.
o Mesiner then explains (alone) that he doesn’t like to ask a student to leave. He says “but when I see
that he cannot learn what I have to teach, and that his presence has become detrimental to other
students who are learning then, as a responsible teacher I do it [ask them to leave]”
o He then says (again alone) that he is going to ask two other students to leave as well