Interview with International Theatre Review
Jim Jarrett is Founder/Director of The Meisner Technique Studio, which opened in San Francisco in 2005 to immediately full classes. Also, in conjunction with the famed Magic Theatre, the world premier of Jarrett’s latest play, MEISNER debuted in August, 2006 to SRO audiences and critical success.
In June of 2007, MEISNER headed to Los Angeles for a two-month run at The Hayworth Theater and it, too was a smash-hit. Now, Jarrett has adapted MEISNER into a full-length feature film, which will begin shooting in the Spring of 2013.
MEISNER is a one-man play in which Jarrett portrays legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner, the man whom David Mamet called “the first true genius I had ever met in my life.” Jarrett has also received international acclaim for his own production of Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent, now entering it’s 15-year run throughout the world.
In a recent interview with International Theatre Review, Jarrett was asked to talk about acting, teaching, and his remarkable time spent with Sandy Meisner – the irascible and entertaining master teacher who helped advance more careers than the other top-name acting teachers combined.
Q. What is your teaching philosophy?
JJ: “My teaching philosophy is simple.
First and foremost, it is to provide a safe place for actors to grow. Actors are so vulnerable, and acting teachers are often ‘gods’ in their students’ eyes – so to respect that platform, that position, is critical. And I have tremendous respect for that platform.
Secondly, to only accept students with an intense desire to call themselves actors and have it actually mean something. And that’s simply a matter that I’ve dedicated my life to the craft of acting, so if you’re not serious about your dream then I’m simply the wrong teacher for you.
Thirdly, to foster a relationship where my students are not dependent upon me. Actors often tell me they studied with ‘this teacher’ or ‘that teacher’ for five years, ten years, whatever – and I’m always stunned! Just stunned! I believe it’s my job, my duty to get you to stand on your own, ASAP. I want you to become a craftsman, which means you don’t need me. You’ll be able to work as an actor and actually know what you’re doing, independent of me.”
Q. What inspires your teaching philosophy, and why?
JJ: “What inspires my teaching philosophy is the belief, the knowing, that to be an actor can be a noble profession… that if you have something to say and you work with integrity, then someday time will catch up with your talent and your dream, and you will find your voice, your audience. So what inspires me is knowing that, if you’re serious about being an actor, I can help you by putting a foundation in place that is solid.”
Q. Who inspires you first and foremost? Was it Sanford Meisner?
JJ: “Sandy believed that to be an actor was a sacred pursuit, a very noble profession. He once said, ‘Life beats down and crushes our souls, and theater reminds us that we have one, at least the type of theater I’m interested in – that is, theater that moves an audience. Actors have the opportunity to literally impact the lives of people if they work on material that has integrity. But today, most actors simply want to be famous. Well, being an actor was never supposed to be about fame and money. Being an actor is a calling, and you’ve been given the gift, the ability, to inspire humanity. Think about that on the way to your soap opera audition.’
I agree with Sandy completely, and that’s why he continues to inspire me so. I also believe being an actor is truly a calling, an opportunity to impact humanity through our voice, our talent, our passion, our dreams. And that is an honor as well.”
Q. What is your persona as an actor? What roles have you played as an actor?
JJ: “If I have a persona as an actor, I would hope it’s someone with integrity, with standards. And passion.
As far as what roles I’ve played, early on I worked to work and to grow and learn. But soon a shift happened – something Sandy referred to as “one’s artistic soul” began to mature, and soon I discovered that most roles in Hollywood I didn’t want anyway. At that moment I realized I could either complain about it or do something about it. I chose to do something. I formed my own production company with one simple goal – to grow and to help others who I believed had similar artistic values grow as well.
That was fourteen years ago, and for the last ten years I’ve been touring my one-man show, Vincent, which has created an enormous life for my family and me. I am extremely blessed. In fact, when I’m invited to talk to actors I often tell them they’re looking at one of the most successful actors they will ever meet – you don’t recognize me, I’m not rich and famous. BUT, I make a living as an actor, DOING THEATER, and I get to travel the world and perform in some of the most beautiful theaters. And I’m part of an evening of theater that inspires people and I live where I want to and not where I have to. And then of course, I get to teach, which is actually my favorite role to play.”
Q. What role do you play with your students? What is your teaching methodology?
JJ: “My role is their teacher of acting, and caretaker or a stepping-stone to their dreams.
My methodology is The Meisner Technique – one branch removed, as pure and authentic as possible. Of course, there are many fine teachers of The Meisner Technique out there but there were only a handful that Sandy invited to carry on his legacy. I am part of that very select group – an opportunity and an honor that I do not take lightly. I got to be with Einstein at the end of his life, and he gave me the keys to the room.”
Q. Who are your students? Describe age, personality, profession, etc.
JJ: “My students run the gambit –strong training, credits and a career to those who’ve never acted in anything seriously before my class. Which for me is an important point, I don’t care what your previous training or experience is. All I care is that you’re serious and you care passionately about becoming an actor. As far as my students – some want a career in Hollywood, New York, wherever. Some never want to leave San Francisco or their hometown. They don’t want to be big stars. Their dreams are different, but just as intense, private and sincere. And passionate.”
Q. Any success stories among your students?
JJ: “I have students all over the world now so that’s quite nice, but success is a tricky word. To me a successful actor works on projects he or she wants to and doesn’t wait for the business to give permission to play or not, or to recognize talent or not – and if that’s the case, then I have many successes.
One of my favorites is an actress who now tours the world performing great women from the Bible. She’s very religious, so that’s a good fit – but more than that, she’s booked years in advance, gets paid really well and loves what she’s doing. That, for me, is success.”
Q. Describe your acting class: setting, materials sourced, scene, structure, etc.
JJ: “Classes meet twice a week, three hours per class, and since my goal is to teach The Meisner Technique as pure and authentic as possible I take students through the entire process. It is a brick by brick process to strip away all the BS and artifice, and to strip all acting habits from the actor’s instrument so that you are truly spontaneous, moment-to-moment machines.”
Suffice to say, when you finish you will have a foundation so solid that you will realize why some of the greatest talents in acting credit Sandy and The Meisner Technique for their achievements.”
Q. Who are your Bay Area competitors? LA or NYC schools, or an acting studio you would draw parallels to?
JJ: “Well, I’ve never felt I had any competitors. Again, that’s not because there aren’t many fine teachers. There are. It also doesn’t mean there aren’t fine teachers of The Meisner Technique who weren’t trained by Sandy to teach his way because there are – but as mentioned earlier, they are only handful on the planet trained by Sandy. Knowing that I have Sandy’s personal blessing to teach his way and the fact that spent four years actually studying with him gives one a great sense of confidence and self-respect, if you will. I know what I’m doing, and believe I’m very good at communicating Sandy’s way for those interested.
That said, by establishing The Meisner Technique Studio here in San Francisco, I intend to create a place for actors to grow while hopefully enhancing Sandy’s reputation and legacy.”
Q. What would be the result for the student who participates in your acting classes?
JJ: “They’ll have a foundation that is solid; they’ll be able to call themselves actors and it will truly mean something. They’ll have a respect and standard for the craft of acting that will carry them for their entire careers – and they will be not only authentic actors but also truly authentic human beings.”
San Francisco unscripted interviews with Jim Jarrett