The William Esper Studio was founded in 1965 as a school for the performing arts in Manhattan, New York. The school is considered an internationally recognized authority on the acting technique of Sanford Meisner. Its founder, William "Bill" Esper (1932 - ), is often referred to as the best-known of Meisner's first generation teachers, and his most "authentic protege".
When Esper was a young man, he saw Eli Wallach and Maureen Stapleton in a touring production of The Rose Tattoo.
As Esper later recounted: "[I] was so struck by the acting ...[A]fter the play was over, I decided to go around the corner to get a cup of coffee so I could think about it some more. I walked into a little drugstore, and Eli was sitting there having a bite to eat..."
Esper talked to the actor, and Wallach told him he had studied at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. After graduating Case Western Reserve University in his native Ohio, Esper moved to New York City and began studying with Meisner, who was famous for his exercises in repeated dialogue.
In 1962 Esper undertook training as a teacher and director with Meisner and proceeded to work closely with him for the next 15 years. Esper was on the staff of the Neighborhood Playhouse from 1965 to 1977 and Associate Director of the Playhouse Acting Department from 1974 to 1977.
In 1977 Esper also founded the BFA and MFA Professional Actor Training Programs at Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts. He led that department until 2004.
Esper has been a guest artist/teacher at Canada's Banff Festival of the Arts as well as at the National Theatre School of Canada, the St. Nicholas Theater in Chicago, Illinois, and the Schauspiel München School in Munich. Together with his wife Suzanne Esper, who also teaches at Esper Studios, he has conducted numerous workshops throughout Europe, most notably at the National Film School of Denmark, the Norwegian National Academy of Theatre, and the National Theatre Mannheim. In 2008 Bill and Suzanne Esper introduced Meisner's work to Russia at the St. Petersburg State Academy of Theater.
Esper has worked extensively Off-Broadway and regionally. He is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. He was profiled in the book The New Generation of Acting Teachers, published by Viking Press in 1987. He is a past member of the National Board of the National Association of Schools of Theatre and a former Vice-President and Board Member of the University/Resident Theatre Association. He has lectured on acting at People′s Light and Theatre Company and the Screen Actors Guild Conservatory, New York City; SAG honored him with a Certificate of Achievement for his service to the profession. In 2011 Esper received the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE)'s Lifetime Achievement in Academic Theatre Award. In 2013 he was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.
In 1965 Esper founded the eponymous William Esper Studio. Among those he has coached and taught are: