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Bill Westenberg, co-chair of the Creative Arts department at Derryfield, recently completed a five-month course of study in the Meisner technique, an approach to acting developed by American actor and acting teacher Sanford Meisner. Westenberg studied remotely with Larry Silverberg, one of the foremost authorities on the technique, in a course through the True Acting Institute. The culmination of the program was the production of a filmed scene, incorporating all elements of the technique. After successfully completing his course of study, Westenberg is now a certified Meisner teacher.
Although Westenberg is a professional actor and an active member of the Actors’ Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild, this was his first intensive course of study since he was a graduate student at the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington. Westenberg said his chief impetus for taking the Meisner class was to, “Expand my learning about the craft as well as become a student again.” Westenberg also noted it had been years since he had taken notes and received notes on his own work. Although a defensive stance is one’s normal reaction to critical feedback, one must move beyond that to accept that constructive advice is a learning tool. Westenberg observed he would come to the next Derryfield production with fresh empathy for his student actors.
Chief lessons learned from the class were, “Acting is a true craft/art. In order to do it well, one must truly and seriously study it for years. My other takeaway was reinforcing how empathetic one must be to the actors when directing. Acting is a very difficult and vulnerable enterprise and a good director must be attuned to that.”
When asked which parts of the Meisner technique he will aim to impart to his Derryfield students, Westenberg replied, “The technique is very advanced; however, there are tools that I will use that will definitely help them during productions. It will take the experience out of the superficial and into a much deeper and more satisfying realm.”
Westenberg articulated the philosophy of theater productions at Derryfield. “We don’t have the budget for big, elaborate sets—but that’s fine because that’s not where I want the focus to be. Rather, I want the audience to focus on the characters’ journeys and their relationships with each other and the world around them. I want the audience to get lost in the story and viscerally experience the world we created.”
Located in Manchester, NH, The Derryfield School is a private day school for grades 6-12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.