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Entry from December 10, 2022
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances”

“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances” (or “Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”) is a saying that has been printed on many images. The saying is credited to acting teacher Sanford Meisner (1905-1997).

“‘Acting is the art of living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” he (Jack Warner—ed.) quotes Stanislavsky” was printed in the Charlotte (NC) Observer on August 11, 1963. “The ideal of American acting is personality acting: ‘living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’ (Sanford Meisner, acting coach)” was printed in Sight and Sound (London, UK) in Spring 1973. “Meisner’s technique basically demands learning to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances, to bring reality to something that is not real” was printed in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY) on July 1, 1973. “Using Stanslavsky’s definition that ‘acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’” was printed in the Chicago (IL) Tribune on October 14, 1974.
   
Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) was a famous Russian theatre practitioner. His teachings might have inspired Sanford Meisner to create the quote, but there is no evidence that Stanislavski said this directly.
   
“DEFINITION: Acting, David Mamet says, is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances” was printed in the Centre Daily Times (State College, PA) on January 17, 1983. “‘Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.’ (Sanford Meisner) was posted on Twitter by Acting Magazine on November 26, 2022. THis has become the most popular form of the quote.
 
           
Wikipedia: Sanford Meisner
Sanford Meisner (August 31, 1905 – February 2, 1997) was an American actor and acting teacher who developed an approach to acting instruction that is now known as the Meisner technique. While Meisner was exposed to method acting at the Group Theatre, his approach differed markedly in that he completely abandoned the use of affective memory, a distinct characteristic of method acting. Meisner maintained an emphasis on “the reality of doing”, which was the foundation of his approach.
 
The Meisner technique
Meisner’s unusual techniques were considered both unorthodox and effective. Actor Dennis Longwell wrote of sitting in on one of Meisner’s classes one day, when Meisner brought two students forward for an acting exercise. They were given a single line of dialogue, told to turn away, and instructed not to do or say anything until something happened to make them say the words (one of the fundamental principles of the Meisner technique). The first student’s line came when Meisner approached him from behind and gave him a strong pinch on the back, inspiring him to jump away and yelp his line in pain. The other student’s line came when Meisner reached around and slipped his hand into her blouse. Her line came out as a giggle as she moved away from his touch.
 
The goal of the Meisner technique has often been described as getting actors to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
   
Newspapers.com
11 August 1963, Charlotte (NC) Observer, “Jack Warner: Funny Little Man” by Harriet Doar, pg. 10-D, col. 4:
You learn, in studying acting, to be more truthful, a more responsive person, he thinks. “Acting is the art of living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” he (Jack Warner—ed.) quotes Stanislavsky.
 
Spring 1973, Sight and Sound (London, UK), “Some Notes on Film Acting” by Lawrence Shaffer, pg. 105, col. 2:
The ideal of American acting is personality acting: “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances” (Sanford Meisner, acting coach).
 
Newspapers.com
1 July 1973, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), “It’s Cold on Broadway” by John Czarnecki, Upstate sec., pg. 9, col. 2:
Meisner’s technique basically demands learning to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances, to bring reality to something that is not real.
   
Newspapers.com
14 October 1974, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “‘Squirrels’: Overrun with obscurity” by Roger Dettmer, sec. 3, pg. 15, col. 4:
“Using Stanslavsky’s definition that ‘acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,’ we have worked to establish a common vocabulary, and a common method which will permit us to bring to the stage [not thru our insights, but thru our craft] this truth is the form of action.”
(Quoted the written program.—ed.)
   
Newspapers.com
13 April 1980, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Louise Lasser is back—healed, healthy, working” by Linda Winer, Sec. 6, pg. 1, col. 4:
“I (Louise Lasser—ed.) have a great sense of aloneness, but, then…but acting also is the attempt to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
 
Newspapers.com
17 January 1983, Centre Daily Times (State College, PA), pg. 1, col. 3:
DEFINITION: Acting, David Mamet says, is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
 
7 April 1985, New York (NY) Times, “Dedicated To the Religion Of Acting” by Stephen Fife, pg. H5, cols. 2-3:
“Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” another student responds, and Mr. Meisner nods, hearing the words he is after.
 
“Now what does that really mean?” Mr. Meisner asks, moving closer to the actors, until he is almost upon them. What does it mean to ‘act truthfully’? How can you tell the truth from a lie?”
 
“You just can,” somebody answers. it doesn’t seem right.”
 
“But why doesn’t it?” Mr. Meisner continues. “Why, why, why?’
 
This is a question that Mr. Meisner has been asking the last 50 years, and there is an awkward pause now as he waits to hear an answer.
 
Google Books
Sanford Meisner on Acting
By Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell
New York, NY: Vintage Books
1987
Pg. XIV:
Sanford Meisner’s work was, and is, to impart to students and organized approach to the creation of real and truthful behavior within the imaginary circumstances of the theater.
Pg. 15:
“But that blush is the epitome of living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, which is my definition of good acting. That blush came out of her (Eleonora Duse—ed.). She was a genius!”
Pg. 87:
“It came from good preparation?” Vincent suggests.
“No. It came from living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Preparation could never have induced that. It came from her genius, her completeness, in living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
Pg. 128:
“Don’t be an actor,” Meisner says. “Be a human being who works off what exists under imaginary circumstances. Don’t give a performance. Let the performance give you.”
     
Google Books
Knowing Feeling:
Affect, Script, and Psychotherapy

Edited by Donald L. Nathanson
New York, NY: Norton:
1996
Pg. ?:
Meisner Technique
The Meisner approach to theater is based on the assertion that “To act is to do and live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
   
Twitter
TrueActingInstitute
@TrueActingInst
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Sanford Meisner.  #quote
4:33 PM · Sep 16, 2010
       
Brian Timoney - Actors’ Studio
How To Live Truthfully in Imaginary Circumstances
Posted on January 15, 2015 at 12:00 pm.
Written by Brian Timoney
“Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”
Sanford Meisner
 
Sanford Meisner’s definition of acting is a beautiful and profound one, and captures the essence of what we are trying to achieve as method actors. To bring truth and authenticity to an imaginary performance is the holy grail for every actor. The ultimate question, which sets us all on the path of discovery as an actor, is ‘how do you achieve this?’
 
New York Film Academy
Top 5 Famous Acting Quotes From Actors And Why They Matter
Posted on March 25, 2016
(...)
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
-Sanford Meisner
Meisner is most famous for his teachings on acting but he himself was also an accomplished actor. He used revolutionary techniques to get realistic performances from his students, and this quote is the spine of his acting theory. Although simple, his quote is powerful. Mr. Meisner is hinting at the fact that acting should never be forced. Instead, all actions should arise from some impetus, or, more basically, “acting is reacting” to something that happened to you.
     
Twitter
Ryan Reynolds
@VancityReynolds
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances” – Sanford Meisner. Point is, there’s a new Detective Pikachu trailer tomorrow.
8:53 AM · Feb 25, 2019
 
Google Books
Acting Is Behaving Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances
6x9 Journal Funny Sarcastic Inspirational Notebook Xmas Gift Presents for Under 10 Dollars
By Mpire Publishing · 2019
   
Twitter
Unstoppable Acting Studio
@UnstoppActors
THINGS YOU CAN LEARN FROM SANFORD MEISNER! 🧠
Acting is the reality of doing.
Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
An ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words.
Listen and respond.
6:00 AM · Oct 25, 2020
 
Twitter
Acting Magazine
@ActingMagazine
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
(Sanford Meisner)
actingmagazine.com
Sanford Meisner: “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
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