Meisner Technique: Spoon River Excercises

Previous steps in the Meisner technique at my studio: 1) Repetition, 2) Door and activity, 3) Scenes for presence, depth of emotion, and connection.

Now, we’re performing poems from the Spoon River Anthology. Here’s my attempt at clarifying the method for this exercise:

  1. Study and prepare the text using your own method outside of class.
  2. Perform the text in a way that incorporates the following elements:
    1. An interaction with someone to whom you’re speaking the poem. You’ll choose one of your class mates to stand in for this person.
    2. A performance that optimizes for one of the following: emotional depth and intensity, a vocal challenge like an accent, or a physical challenge like a limp.

I’ve made some Spoon River poetry rehearsals part of my daily acting workout. My goal is to perform and ideally tape myself so I know when I ‘hit it’ (perform at a level of truthfulness I’m happy with).

Preparing the text

For the Spoon River exercises, I’ve been primarily using Ivana Chubbuck’s ’12 tools’ to understand the text. Her techniques are a bit circular, though. To accomplish any of the techniques, you need to possess a thorough understanding of the text and character. But understanding text and character are tools in and of themselves.

My steps:

  1. Copy the text of the poem into my notebook so I have margins to write in. Hand-writing also helps me become more familiar with the text.
  2. Work through Chubbuck’s steps and write my decisions in the margins of my notebook with a pencil.
  3. Memorize the poem concurrently with the above steps.
    1. The Meisner technique I’ve studied says to memorize before script analysis and to memorize it ‘flat,’ i.e. without emotion. This supposedly helps you perform it more naturally with present emotions and intonations instead of by wrote.
    2. Chubbuck, however, says to only memorize after you’ve gone through her tools. She says this helps you perform more naturally with present emotions and intonations instead of by wrote.
    3. So I’m doing my own thing. I figure the key takeaway is, ‘Do what you have to so that you can perform naturally with spontaneity, instead of with memorized intonation.’ For me right now, that’s memorizing as I go.

My notebook looks like this afterwords.


Preparing emotions

Just before the performance, Meisner teaches to cultivate an emotional state that matches the state of the character you’re performing. My instructors and books in Meisner suggest I should do this by imagining circumstances that will put me in that state. Until I can condition myself to snap into a deep state with only a thought, however, I’m using physical state changes a la Tony Robbins to help me get where I need to be.


2016.2 Spoon River: Columbus Cheney

Coming soon.

2016.1 Spoon River: Lyman King

Notes on preparation: I prepared emotionally more thoroughly than takes the night before, in which the stakes weren’t high enough and I wasn’t angry enough for the subject matter.

Here’s a take from the day before that I was unhappy with. My preparation involved just a few seconds of ‘thinking angry thoughts.’

Why am I making these public? It helps me become less self-conscious. It also helps me take notes.


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