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Special Report: Meisner's Method

Updated: Thursday, November 28 2013, 11:09 AM EST
Special Report: Meisner
In a non-descript brick building off Riverside drive on the French Broad, there's a simple studio that when filled has students dreaming of becoming true to the art of acting

"When you can walk in and see the space and see what kind of a home this is becoming it's priceless," said Richard Handy, co-founder of a burgeoning new acting conservatory called the NYS3. 

"It's a very unique thing and I think that's what's being seen," said Handy. "It went from a black box theater to a full-fledged program with 15 staff members all phenomenal incredible.  The two year program is grounded in the teachings of famed acting coach Sandy Meisner. 

"This is in my hometown?," said Mandy Hughes. "Something where I can get Meisner training is here? I knew it's where I wanted to go."

Just Google Sandy Meisner's name and you'll see a roster of A-list actors from Philip Seymour Hoffman to John Malkovich to Susan Sarandon to Mary Steenburgen to Diane Keaton all of whom either trained with or studied the Meisner technique.

The Asheville school's faculty all have ties to New York stage or training.  Actress Kelly McGillis best known for 80s blockbuster films Top Gun with Tom Cruise and Witness starting Harrison Ford is by far NYS3's best known teacher. McGillis, who trained at Julliard in New York, lives a quiet life in Asheville but has some of the most well attended classes at the school.

"There is only one Kelly McGillis and she is totally herself," said Tyler Weisner, a student. "What's amazing about her classes is she's had such a wealth of experience and knowledge in this career and she's such a vivacious personality that when she examines your work, it's truly without judgment and it's always about being able to give you a perspective that truly I would not be able to have."

Teacher Kelley Hinman was a Meisner student training in NewYork with the legend himself.

"He was very intimidating," said Hinman. "But he also had a sense of humor."

Meisner believed in getting to the core of a student's personality so they could know then translate their authentic selves into a role. His best known phrase Meisner would use to describe what he wanted students to achieve was to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances."

The training can begin with a series of improvisational exercises where two students face each other and say a word or short phrase. The second student will then repeat the word back or respond to what's been said so that a spontaneous, almost visceral dialogue between the two players begins. Meisner's intent was to get students to react without thought. He felt the work would then translate to when an actor would take on a part and use their trained ability to become that individual in the script.

The popularity of the Meisner technique has had a resurgence in recent years.  Richard Handy teaches with a clear deference to what Meisner hoped to develop in students who were accepted in his school in Manhattan decades ago. The hope for those now passing on his training to students in Asheville is they can tap into what Meisner intended for all students he taught, to be true to their authentic selves.

By Kimberly king
Follow Kim on twitter @kimkingreports
Special Report: Meisner's Method
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