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Stella Adler and the Art of Acting

Honors College Acting 4
by

Brittany ELLIS

on 10 December 2012

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Transcript of Stella Adler and the Art of Acting

Stella's Earlier Years Adler was widely acclaimed in the Yiddish theater, but she wanted to break out of that theatrical ghetto and play a wider variety of roles on the stage and in Hollywood. Stella kept her consistency throughout her 83-year-long career with her intense dedication to broadening the level of artistry in the theater. She made her Broadway debut as a replacement in Carl Kapek's "The World We Live In". (Her official debut as a member of the original company was in "The Straw Hat" on Oct 14, 1926). After its run played out, she joined the acting school the American Laboratory . Who is Stella Adler? Adler and Stanislavsky Stella Adler explains to her students that "The Method" is something that they will learn through her, and as she did incorporate it into their own lives, making them independent of the method. Then they will have the strength to reformulate it and go their separate ways. What is "The Method"? Stella Adler's Teachings Stella Adler taught her students to be very independent and to let their outside lives have no influence on what they do on the stage. While they were in her class they were to leave the outside world outside and bring all of themself into the room. When students would first arrive in one of her classes she would tell them that "Acting is not about you. But right at the start I want you to know that you matter." Each one of her students was special and she made sure that they knew it. The Art of Acting Stella Adler Stella Adler was born on February 1, 1901, in New York, the youngest daughter of the Yiddish theater actors, Jacob P. Adler and Sarah Adler, who founded an acting dynasty. In addition to her parents, Stella's family included her siblings Charles Adler, Jay Adler, Julia and Luther Adler, all of whom appeared on Broadway. Stella made her debut at the age of four in the family-owned theater in the play "Broken Hearts". At the age of 18, she made her London debut as "Naomi" in "Elisa Ben Avia", in which she appeared for a year before returning to New York. Stella then spent the next 10 years treading the boards in vaudeville and Yiddish language theaters throughout North and South America and Europe. In all, she appeared in 100 plays. While married to Horace Eleaschreff, Adler met Harold Clurman, who would become her second husband and one of the co-founders of The Group Theatre, in 1924 (They would marry 19 years later). In this period, she met another future Group Theatre co-founder, Lee Strasberg, at the Actor's Laboratory when she participated in classes there in 1928. Along with Cheryl Crawford, Clurman and Strasberg founded the Group Theatre in 1931. It became arguably the most influential theater group in 20th century America, at least in terms of its influence on acting by introducing the teaching of Konstantin Stanislavski's System to the American stage. Its aim was the championing of realism and it is credited with bringing naturalism into the American theater. Clurman and Strasberg invited Adler to become a founding member of the Group Theatre. The Utopian political ideals that were central to the idea of the Group Theatre did not appeal to Adler, nor did the cooperative focus of the company, but she did join after being promised leading roles and because she supported Clurman's vision of the theater as an art form. It was with the Group Theatre that Stella played some of her more acclaimed roles, including "Sarah Glassman" in "Success Story", "Bessie Berger" in "Awake and Sing" and "Clara" in "Paradise Lost". Stella's Career In 1934, she took a leave of absence from the Group Theatre and traveled to Russia to study for five weeks in Moscow Art Theatre, and in private sessions with the great man himself, Konstantin Stanislavski, whose motto was "Think of your own experiences and use them truthfully." Adler was among few American actors, such as Michael Chekhov and Richard Boleslawski to study privately with Stanislavsky. In August 1934, she returned from Russia, and made a presentation of what she learned from Stanislavski, then she began teaching acting classes to members of The Group Theatre troupe, including the actors Elia Kazan, Sanford Meisner and Robert Lewis. Meisner and Lewis would go on to be the most influential acting teachers in America after Adler herself and Strasberg. Kazan, who would go on to become the greatest theatrical director in 20th century American theater, also had a huge impact on American acting by championing what became known in the vernacular as "The Method", which was closely related to Adler's teaching. Kazan's exposure to Konstantin Stanislavski's System through Adler was highly influential in his work. Stella's Techniques According to Stella Adler, a good actor knows how to translate his imagination into actions. She says that it’s important for the actor to be constantly doing something while onstage. This doesn’t mean that you should always be moving around the stage. It means that you should focus on the emotions of your character and translate them to the equivalent actions. For instance, is your character trying to plead, to help, to teach, to demean, to avoid, etc.? It’s important that you know the motivation behind every line your character says and every move he makes. The Stella Adler Acting method requires acting students to perform a lot of exercises. One good acting exercise that you can do is called inner justification. Here you select a single line from a play that you haven’t read or watched before. Now, try to imagine the motivation behind the character saying that particular line. What are the circumstances? What is the character trying to achieve? Make sure that the situation you choose is something that you feel passionately about so you can live the lines, instead of just memorizing and saying them. Imagination Exercise Inner justification Another technique that Stella uses is the Imagination Exercise. Pick an object and describe it. The goal is to get very specific (shades of colors, texture, etc.) but to communicate what the object looks like in a direct simple way that speaks to your audience. The more you do this exercise, the more objects will speak to you and the quicker your imagination will kick in onstage. Then take the exercise to the next level by letting your imagination run free (Adler calls that "traveling"). For example, a green couch can remind you of emerald earrings a woman wore at a party you went to which reminds you of the music that was playing and so on and so on. Stella's Method Acting is Doing
The actor must always do something on stage. He must have a justification for each action (know exactly why he is performing each action).
Developing the imagination
An actor develops his imagination by first observing the world around him in very specific details. He can then create specific images in his mind in order to surround himself with things that are true to him on stage. Making the audience will see through his eyes.
Training the mind
Actors must have a real understanding of the play in order to reveal its secrets to the audience. They must study the text and its ideas but also research the social situations of the play.
Size
Actors need strong bodies and voices for the stage so they can bring size to their actions.Her students learned to always bring a bigger meaning to the text. Stella Adler's Legacy Stella Adler, herself a fiercely independent theater artist, understood that acting becomes vital, exciting, and alive when actors do their own thinking and bring a point of view or a sense of mission to their work. One of her most frequently quoted statements is: “Your talent is in your choice.” At the Studio, the aim is to develop actors who think for themselves, respect their own ideas and ideals, and use the theater as a means to share those ideas and ideals. Such independent actors are fully resolved to train their minds, bodies, voices, and spirits to achieve that end.
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