Without Sanford Meisner there would be no Meisner Technique, and without the Meisner Technique, most acting schools and certainly every acting class would be hard pressed to find a way of teaching a concrete way for actors to listen and spontaneously answer one another.
So who was Sanford Meisner? Sanford Meisner, along with Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Robert Lewis, Elia Kazan, and Stella Adler, was one of the founding members of perhaps the most influential movements in American acting training- New York's 1930's Group Theater.
Based on Russian theater innovator Konstantin Stanislavski's approach to acting instruction, the Group Theater would in turn revolutionize acting in America. Revolutions, however, especially the creative variety, are not without internal strife. Sanford Meisner would leave the Group Theater in the 1940's and create what is now called the Meisner Technique. He would focus on the truth of the moment, and abandon Strasberg's idea that actors had to bring in and re-create their personal experiences in order to play a part.
By the 1990's, The Meisner Technique had trained a number of generations of actors, including Robert Duvall, Gregory Peck, Bob Fosse, Jon Voight, Jeff Goldblum, Grace Kelly, Diane Keaton, and so on. The Meisner Technique had become the dominant acting technique among successful film and television actors and almost every acting school in California began to offer some kind of Meisner training.
And how did the Meisner Technique accomplish all this? Simply by getting actors to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." The Meisner Technique purports that actors need to concern themselves with playing actions, and that emotion and subtextual meaning is to be arrived at through actors' truthful reactions to one another, rather than playing a prescribed, pre-determined, often self indulgent emotion which has neither anything to do with the other actors nor anything to do with the actual meaning of the scene at hand.
The Meisner Technique is mainly taught through an acting exercise called the Repetition Exercise, where an actor makes personal, behavioral statements about another, statements which are then repeated by the other actor until there is an authentic connection between the two actors based on the truth of the moment. The Meisner Technique thus teaches actors to create a bond based on each other's truth—in short, there is simply NO better technique of training actors to respond to one another in the moment.
The only problem with all this, and certainly a problem which has been universally acknowledged but rarely addressed, is that the spontaneity created by the repetition exercise is hard to bring into scene work.
The Sanford Meisner Technique is brilliant, but practical application of it is hard to come by. The Acting Corps recognized this need early on, and began finding innovative ways of blending The Meisner Technique into scene work and cold readings at the very beginning of an actor's training. Though the Acting Corps' approach has been much duplicated (the highest form of flattery, Mr. Meisner would say), the original Actors' Boot Camp remains the only place where this unique approach of bringing the Meisner Technique into cold readings and scene study exists.