The Meisner technique has a clear system of exercises that build upon each other and build the actor from the ground up. Doing the exercises is like going to the gym: We exercise, stretch and maintain our acting muscles. The goal is to be able to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances". We train the authenticity of our instrument: our presence, imagination, emotional life and reactions to be able to move an audience. In this post, we describe the first exercise in the technique, the so-called "Repetition".
What is Repetition within Meisner Technique?
The repetition exercise is one of the cornerstones of the Meisner technique and perhaps the exercise with which the Meisner technique is most often associated. It is important to remember that even though it is a very important exercise, it is only the first step within an entire acting technique.
Why do We do Repetition while Practicing Meisner Technique?
Many actors are introverted by nature, but it looks a little strange when actors are not affected by each other and by what is happening on stage. Repetition forces them to make real contact with each other and to focus outward instead of inward. It forces them to really listen to each other, to perceive nuances in what one's scene partner says (what is really being said and meant by tone, body language (i.e. behavior), not just what is said with words), to be open and to be affected by each other.
By making your scene partner more important than yourself, you'll get out of your head and into your stomach/heart/impulses/instincts. You stop monitoring or trying to correct yourself.
The exercise helps the actor to get in touch with her/his real point of view. By acting before thinking ("on impulse"), you get in touch with who you really are, and away from learned behaviors. You train a truthful instrument. It is beneficial to strengthen your own point of view because a role always has a specific point of view. Truth is important in art – without truth the audience will not be moved.
This is How the Meisner technique's Repetition Works Step by Step
You are you in the exercise, but you are your acting self, not your everyday self. By that I mean that you are you when you are the most alive, most vulnerable, most expressive, most penetratable and receptive.
Make contact with your scene partner. Put 100% focus on him/her.
What do you see? What do you want? What happens within the other person?
Often the first step while learning this exercise is to point out something that exists on the other person, e.g. "you are wearing a blue shirt".
The second way you'll often learn to begin this exercise is with an opinion about something that exists on the other person, e.g. "I like your blue shirt". Since truth is important in the practice and the whole point is to train a truthful instrument , you must not lie and pretend that you like something that you do not like in reality.
The third way you'll often learn to start the exercise is to point out something that is happening within the other person, e.g. "you look angry".
The fourth way you'll often learn to start the exercise is by expressing what happens within yourself (what the other person makes you feel), e.g. "you scare me".
If your partner started the exercise: Change one or two words to answer truthfully from your point of view, e.g. "I'm wearing a blue shirt", "you like my blue shirt", "I look angry" (or "I don't look angry" if that's the truth from your perspective), "I scare you".
After the first exchange: Let go of the meaning of the words and focus on what you get from your scene partner (behavior) instead of what you hear (words). Sometimes (especially in the beginning) it may take a few exchanges before you know what your opinion is and then it's totally fine to repeat until you find it, but the goal is to know at once.
Listen "like an animal in the forest - as if your life depended on it" with every pore in your body to what your partner says next. You can imagine a rubber band between each other's stomachs.
Answer before you have time to think, let the impulses bounce between you like a ping pong ball in a ping pong match. Keep up the pace, don't slow down.
Dare to stay in the same repetition for a long time. Repeat the words exactly and pick up any changes in behavior that occur.
A change of the words in the repetition occurs naturally when the words are no longer sufficient to express what’s going on. It happens on impulse, not planned. It comes from what is going on right now, not what happened a few repetitions ago. We always want to be 100% present here and now.
Tips and Things to Think about While Doing Repetition
Follow your impulses.
You should be honest, not polite (however, the exercise is not an excuse to be unjustifiably mean, but the moment is what the moment is and you don't have to take responsibility for what you say/express in the exercise). We differ the personal from the private. We are personal in repetition, but never private. In the exercise, we take everything personally, but everything that is said during the exercise is left in the exercise and is never brought out into our private lives.
Avoid questions, they make your partner think of an answer and end up in their head. Instead, use clear opinions.
You can say "I didn't hear what you said" or "I don't understand what you mean", if you didn't hear or understand what your scene partner said. The repetition then continues: "you didn't hear what I said", "I didn't hear what you said", "you didn't hear what I said", "I didn't hear what you said"...
Different Variations of Repetition
You can later do different variations of the repetition exercise, e.g. "hold and express" - like a traditional repetition, but instead of responding immediately, you let your partner's words sink in and affect you even more before you express yourself. It's good for practicing "living silences", i.e. silences between actors in scenes. It's not about pausing the exercise and then expressing yourself, but about really letting the words sink in and affect you before you express yourself.
Another variation is to play with distance – what happens if I stand very close to my partner and repeat? What happens if I am very far away from my partner? What happens if we look in different directions and don't see each other, but still make contact to each other? Being able to make contact to each other without seeing each other is extremely valuable, you rarely stare at your scene partner while acting a scene in a performance, but you still have to have contact.
Another way to do the exercise, which can be an especially good variation to do while doing the exercise for the first time, is to have the actors stand back to back and close their eyes. They then put even more focus on each other because the visual impressions are disconnected and it becomes even clearer to them what is happening with the other person because they feel it physically.
This material explains the repetition exercise, but cannot replace training with a skilled Meisner teacher. In order for you to develop your acting in the right direction, you need coaching from a teacher who is used to coaching specifically the Meisner technique, is good at seeing your inner life and can help your craft in the right direction. The exercise looks simple in its design, but there are many nuances within your instrument that surface in the exercise and a skilled Meisner teacher will be able to see exactly what you need to sharpen your instrument further. However, this text can be used as support and memory notes when practicing at home between your Meisner classes. If you are a Meisner teacher and want to use this text in your teaching, that’s fine, but you must either link to the blog or download the PDF. You may not remove the Elin Hilläng Studios logo, the text about Elin Hilläng Studios or Elin Hilläng's name.
Are you an actor or aspiring actor and want to be trained in Meisner technique? At Elin Hilläng Studios we offer the courses Meisner Technique (Step 1), Meisner Technique (Step 2) and Meisner Technique (Step 3). You'll always work in a small group of a maximum of 6 students to be able to get a lot of individual feedback to give you the best conditions to develop as an actor. Click, below! The classes are taught in Swedish.