Acting Classes in NYC – Sensory Expression and The Actors Instrument

May 13, 2012 · Posted in Education 

Actors who study the Meisner Technique are likely familiar with the term the actors instrument. The instrument analogy can be helpful when breaking down all the various aspects that can determine how good an actor is. As an audience member, it becomes apparent very quickly who the good actors in a piece are or who might be falling short. It may also just be a sense of something not coming across in the right way. They can also sense when an actors instrument is not well developed, because they don’t “believe” the character portrayal.

There are six aspects to consider when looking at the actors instrument. They are: physical expression, emotional expression, imagination, sensory expression, intelligence and empathy. These six aspects of the actors instrument are identified and developed when studying the Meisner Technique. It is easy even for non actors to identify professional actors who have mastered the different aspects of their “instrument.” It is the true legends, the icons of stage and screen, that have mastered all six.

For example, an actor like Stallone is known mainly for his physical expression and presence. This doesn’t mean that he can’t express himself emotionally, it just means that his physical presence is the most developed of his acting tools. For Stallone, emotion is an internal process but it is reflected in a very physical way. It’s very important for actors to learn and develop all aspects of their instruments, to become well-rounded performers.

Emotional expression is one of the first things most up and coming actors focus on. Obsessing about how a character feels about something and how to express it is usually the primary thing actors concentrate on. While it can be short sighted to put too much weight on any one aspect of the actors instrument, emotional expression is certainly a key acting tool to master. It’s important to remember, however, that each of the six aspects of the instrument are related and must be developed and work together.

Of course, it is meaningful emotional expression that draws people into any character or story. Emotional expression is they way that the internal aspects of a character’s conflicts, needs, and feelings are expressed. Those that study Meisner acting in nyc use an imagined emotional history of a character which they must then express using all the aspects of the instrument. Students of Meisner acting must study the range of human emotions in all their complexity. They work hard to create a foundation of human emotion and way of communicating based on real people and fictional characters. When called upon to create a specific character, they dig very deep and create and imagine (another part of the instrument) what that character’s emotional story is. Having created a full emotional life and a foundation of behaviors, thoughts and ways of reacting, the actor can then bring the character to life, in the moment, in a spontaneous way.

Vulnerability, for example is an expression of the emotion of insecurity. It’s one thing for an actor to understand that and work with it. But, if they have strongly developed other aspects of their instrument, such as physical expression and empathy, they will be able to present an authentic, vulnerable character. After all, vulnerability can be expressed through tears, or smashing something to pieces or just walking through a park. There is no predictable, safe way to do this.

Acting is not pretending to have an emotion. However, acting is not simply reciting words using certain inflections and gestures to communicate emotions. As Sanford Meisner always said, Acting is DOING. Being in the moment, and opening up completely to whatever emotions the character might present to you is the secret of great acting. This may feel risky at first. Great actors do not force themselves to cry. What they feel is genuine, and the results can range from crying and screaming to sitting perfectly still to express an emotion. Acting students who have developed a deep capacity of raw, true human experience that can express it using all aspects of the instrument are the ones that learn the most about the craft. Give yourself permission to feel fully and strongly, and express it in ways that are physical, intelligent empathetic and real.

The Maggie Flanigan Studio provides training for serious actors committed to improving their craft. Find out more about meisner acting in nyc by reading this article about acting classes by visiting the studio website.


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