Creative Process Part 2 — Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner.  Image via .

Sanford Meisner.  Image via


We have been exploring jazz trumpeter Clark Terry’s principle of creative process—Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate.

This is a clip from one of legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner’s master classes.  In this exercise, one of his trademarks, two actors are paired together and begin an improvised scene by repeating each other.  The idea is that one starts from a mechanical repetition and finds one’s way to a repetition that is from one’s own point of view.

Sometimes, a flash of clarity inspires the repeating actor to introduce the next thought and take the lead, at which point the other actor becomes the repeater.   The idea is that the repetition provides a door to emotions that lie beneath the surface.


Meisner interrupts when he feels that the attention of the actors has drifted from the moment and they have begun to force things and get ahead of themselves.  

Staying in the moment is demanding work, which explains the exercise’s design.  From Sanford Meisner on Acting . . .

Meisner: What does it do for you Bruce, to imitate the other fellow’s movements?

Bruce: It takes the heat off yourself.

Meisner: To take the heat off yourself, as Bruce just said, to transfer the point of concentration outside of yourself, is a big battle won.

Sanford Meisner on Acting, Sanford Meisner and Dennis Longwell, p. 26 

Notice how shifting the point of concentration outward evokes the earlier examples of Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate that we've explored.  Creative work  calls on our deepest attention, and in order to access that attention, we benefit from a procedure that starts outside of ourselves.

 Thank you for reading.