The Repetition Game

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By Sandy Meisner. (Text from https://actingcoachscotland.co.uk/blog/repetition-beginners/)

Repetition or the Repetition Exercise or Game was developed by Sandy Meisner in the USA to train actors to actively listen to each other and pay attention to their stage partners. Repetition is a foundation exercise in Practical Aesthetics, the approach to acting developed by David Mamet & WH Macy.

Traditionally actors do not need to listen to each other. They’ve rehearsed the scene in the same way throughout the entire rehearsal process, so they know what’s coming next. This means that their skill must be in pretending to respond truthfully to something they’ve heard hundreds of times. However, sooner or later, your performance will degrade over time. This might be fine on film but on the stage, where you need to remain spontaneous night after night, it becomes problematic.

In Meisner’s view and that of practitioners of Practical Aesthetics, actors should listen and should not set their performances in stone. In the words of Mike Alfreds, they should be ‘different every night.’

If your performance is to be truly spontaneous and immediate (meaning based on what’s happening here and now rather than copying what happened in rehearsal ad naseum), then you must learn to work off what the other actor is doing in this moment.

Repetition helps you to build the skills to deal with this new spontaneous and immediate style of performance.

Repetition is simple. Say something truthful about the other person and then that person repeats from their perspective and continue to repeat what you hear until something happens that makes you change. For example:

You’re unsure I’m unsure You’re unsure I’m unsure You’re unsure I’m unsure You’re unsure I’m unsure You’re unsure I’m unsure You’re unsure I’m unsure Etc etc…

There’s no need to do anything, there’s no need to change what you say or how you say it unless you see something new occurring.

Simply put: if you see the person fidgeting and biting their lip, you may believe they are nervous, then say it and continue to repeat (until one of you sees some new change occuring).

You’re unsure I’m unsure You’re unsure I’m unsure (you see them bite their lip) You’re nervous I’m nervous You’re nervous I’m nervous You’re nerbus (you hear them err) You made a mistake I made a mistake (they go red) You’re embarrassed I’m embarrassed You’re embarrassed I’m embarrassed You’re embarrassed I’m embarrassed

As David Mamet says ‘Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing’. This means that you do NOT need to change anything on purpose but if you see a change in your repetition partner, then say it, don’t deny it. Remember it’s Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing.

There are three rules for repetition:

  1. Tell the Truth
  2. If in doubt Repeat
  3. Dont stop playing the game: keep playing if you get it right, get it wrong, completely fuck it up or a herd of gazelles tramples your classmates. Place your focus on your partner and play the game until you’re told to stop.

You must allow yourself to be influenced by the other actor and to inadvertently (at this stage) influence their behaviour (without attempting to do so).

This game has no winner, it’s not a competition. When you make a mistake or get stuck for words just attempt to keep going, your worst mistakes are gifts to your fellow repetition practitioner that will keep the game going.

Simply say what you see regardless of social politeness. Meisner used to say ‘Fuck Polite’. He doesn’t mean be rude, he simply means that if you are an actor, you must be open to live truthfully under a wide range of imaginary circumstances and scenarios. For this reason, the actor must be unrestricted by social niceties in order to prepare to do this. It’s not about being mean to each other, it’s about being open enough to say what you see and respond to it.