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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of Dec 31, 2002 - Jan 7, 2003

Arts and Entertainment

Actor honors teacher in one-man show

Express Staff Writer

Acting classes can be expensive, bewildering and humbling experiences. All too frequently it seems eager, yet gullible, students are fed a diet of ego and cultist behavior. They are taught by someone, who may have been taught by someone else, who claims a connection to someone, who once attended a class taught by yet another "master."

The fact is there are just a select few of these teachers whose names can be used with sincere reverence. In the theatre—and film—world, for nearly 40 years, several accomplished actor/teachers held sway. Among them were Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner. Now their acolytes are passing on their genius.

Jim Jarrett stars in "Sandy Meisner … A Teacher," opening Friday at nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. Courtesy photo

At the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum, actor Jim Jarrett is presenting his production of "Sanford Meisner … A Teacher," as a benefit for the theater on Jan 3, 4 and 5, at 7 p.m.

Jarrett, who studied with Meisner during the last 10 years of his life, donated his performance fee and the proceeds from two shows at nexStage last year as well.

Born in Brooklyn in 1905, Meisner studied to become a concert pianist in New York at what eventually became the Juilliard School.

In 1931, a group of innovative, young actors, including Meisner, Adler, Strasberg, and Harold Clurman, among others, established The Group Theatre. It was the first permanent theater company that used method acting, which was rooted in the methods of Russian acting master Konstantin Stanislavsky.

Meisner appeared in 12 Group productions, including all of Clifford Odets' plays and "Waiting for Lefty," which Meisner co-directed with Odets in 1935.

Meisner eventually tired of method acting, and in 1935 he became head of the Drama Department at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, while continuing to act and direct plays.

In 1958, he left to work in Hollywood but returned in 1964. In 1985, Meisner and his partner James Carville co-founded an acting school on the island of Bequia in the West Indies.

Carville and James Barter along with Meisner, who’d left The Playhouse in 1990, then opened The Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts in March 1995. Later the school and theater were combined to form The Sanford Meisner Center, today the only school and theater to operate under Meisner's name.

In all the venues where Meisner taught, he stamped his own technique into generations of grateful and successful actors. Among them were Grace Kelly, Joanne Woodward, Gregory Peck, Steve McQueen, Diane Keaton, James Woods, John Cassavetes, Eli Wallach, Peter Falk, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jon Voigt and Robert Duvall.

Jarrett, now a resident of Ketchum, began studying with Meisner in 1987. During that year he spent a month in Meisner’s elite professional class in Bequia. Jarrett moved west later that year when Meisner made his moved back to California. After two years as a student, he became an assistant and teacher-in-training. Meisner died at the age of 92 in 1997.

Jarrett says the play’s appeal is not limited to acting students or theater enthusiasts.

"It’s everything to do with a celebration of the greatest profession: teaching."

However, the one-man show, "Sanford Meisner… a Teacher" has aspects of a real acting class. It’s fascinating for anyone who loves theater and is curious about the craft. It’s also positively eerie for anyone who’s ever taken an acting class.

Within the play there are six sections where video, projected via rear-screen, shows through a black scrim of "students" doing scene work. These segments are from actual teaching exchanges between Meisner—who was known familiarly as Sandy—and his students. The scenes were re-staged using Meisner-trained actors, then shot and edited. The classroom seems to literally come to life. When Jarrett playing Meisner speaks to the students, they respond in kind.

Jarrett worked on the script, which was culled from actual classes, for two and a half years. He transcribed four years worth of Meisner’s words, and refers to his massive manuscript as "my bible."

"Every word was spoken by Sandy," Jarrett said. "I do a good job of breathing life into it."

The play begins with Meisner in his 40s in the New York of the 1950s. The second act is Meisner in the later part of his life in his 80s.

"I loved Sandy Meisner and he loved me. He felt I was someone to come along that he could hand the keys over to," Jarrett said.

A documentary made by one time Meisner student, Sydney Pollack the director, confirms that "he influenced the lives of his students. He was an artistic genius."

The Meisner play and "Vincent," penned by Leonard Nimoy, are produced by Jarrett Productions. Jarrett tours extensively with both one-man shows. Last year, he put 12,000 miles on his tour bus in two months of touring nationally. He also was abroad performing in Singapore, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean island of St. Croix.

This past October, Jarrett played "Vincent" to a standing room only crowd at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which was sponsored by the Kennedy Center.

‘This is a rich ride. A wonderful experience," Jarrett said.

Tickets for the benefit performances are available at the nexStage door for $25. Student tickets are $5.


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