KNBC interview coming online soon

For those in Los Angeles, keep your eye out for an interview my mother and I did with Cary Berglund for KNBC-TV that will be airing on Channel 4 tomorrow, Tuesday, November 10th in the 5.00pm news hour.

I was teaching a group of students while Cary watched – a delightful man who was very interested in how our students were working. As soon as I can get it online, I will post it here.

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

KTLA Segment

The three KTLA segments are online Here. Alli McKay was a lot of fun, and I think our students had a blast working on live TV. Check out all three videos. It was a fun experience all around.

Of course, since our call time was 4:45 (that’s a.m.!) I am currently in search of my third wind – My second wind already came and went. – DLS

Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Back on the blog – and on TV!

After a bit of an absence – one heck of a busy summer! – I am back to a regular schedule and I look forward to resuming my activity here on this blog.

As the Creative Director of the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, I am here to talk about what we do, what’s happening in our world, and any other issues of interest to you and me.

Today, I am prepping for a live segment with Alli McKay on KTLA Channel 5 Morning News Show. Should be fun. It is a lighthearted look at what we do. Alli will do a session with me as well as go through a crash course of Voice training and Film Fighting.

I’ll check back after the video is posted for those of you not in LA, or who don’t get up at 5 in the morning to watch the news.

DLS

Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 3:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Namaste

I have been off the blog for a few weeks, but I am back if bit exhausted. I was traveling to New York where we just announced our plans to open a new branch of the Lee Strasberg Institute :

The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute -India

The school is planned to open in June of next year in Mumbai. I am very excited to be working with Rahuul Rawail, a prominent Indian film director, and Ahmed Ahsan who will be collaborating with us to provide training at the same level as we offer in New York and Los Angeles.

This is an exciting step for us at Strasberg, where we have a chance to share my father’s work with the vibrant and active creative community that calls Bollywood home. Our work always starts with the human being, and in that way the acting work is universal. I believe that the actors there are hungry for the best training in the world, and at the same time our community can be enriched by the incredible experience and texture of Indian culture.

IMG_7056

(Left to Right) Rahuul Rawail, Ahmed Ahsan, and David Lee Strasberg announcing the launch of The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute - India

Ahmed and Rahuul have worked diligently with me and with our President, Victoria Krane, to make this new school a reality. Now comes the fun part, as we put the foundation in place for a world-class institute worthy of my father and the actors who will be coming to us to pursue their dream.

I am excited to get there next year and begin to interact with so many talented actors, and I will surely share more information as it develops.

Published in: on June 29, 2009 at 1:46 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , , ,

Having some fun – Movies and Music

Just got home after checking out a friend, Lauri Kranz, and her band Snow & Voices playing in Hollywood. For someone like me who does not go out on the town much, it was a great experience. She sounded awesome, the club was nice, and then we went to the very trendy Katsu-ya Hollywood where several of the LA Lakers were rolling in after their NBA playoff game.

Next up. this Thursday, the 21st, we are screening a film, Dreams Play A Part, written and directed by Emma Jones. The project came out of our screenwriting class, where Emma was working on a feature concept. She ended up writing and directing this 30-minute short which serves as the back story for the characters of her feature script.

Dreams Play A Part

She cast the movie entirely from her fellow Strasberg students and has put together a strong project. The movie is well-shot, and Emma certainly displays a visual sense that is rare among actors making their first foray into film making. It is particularly exciting to  see the film on the big screen after watching clips of it in editing. Should be fun.

More events to come as we have a busy couple of months on the way!

Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 10:45 pm  Comments (3)  

Lots going on!

There is so much going on at the school right now I have had little time to blog. I was in New York and the place was humming. Students who had made it through the auditions were planning their production work for next fall already.

Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden returned to the Institute to speak with our students. She had the whole audience enthralled. All in all, the energy in NY is like no other place on earth. It is a rush every time I am there (and pretty good all-you-can-eat Sushi doesn’t hurt either!).

Here in LA, there is also plenty going on. I will be teaching as part of a Summer Intensive program for 6 weeks, starting July 13 and going through August 21- I am going to work my actors really hard and shake it up. You can’t get too complacent as an actor – or a human being for that matter.

Plus, we just finished casting for a short film project, “Past Meets Present,” that I am developing with Sasha Krane here at the Institute. He and I will be shooting in two weeks with the help of Conor Gass, and Herb Berraza (our in house production SWAT team). We are delaying production in order to finish a photo shoot that will be happening these next two weekends, but while we wait, Sasha and I are planning the next short in the pipeline.When I have some clips to share, I will post them here and you will see our actors at work.

Speaking of actors at work, I will be judging on a panel for my friends at ActorCast. This is one of the biggest things you have probably never heard of. They run the actor database system for some 90% of the major studio TV & Film casting. That is a big deal. What that means for an actor is that they are THE best of the actor sites because the 500 casting directors who tap into the database daily are the ones who run the casting world. Strasberg students can host there for free, but others should check it out as well. I will post more after I review the actors who submitted their audition reels for a special showcase.

On top of that, we are preparing for a screening of one of our student’s short films – a half hour piece that was developed in our screenwriting class and shot over the last semester. I will provide details of that as well as we get a little closer.

All that to say that I have not left the blogosphere. There is lots in process, so that means there should be plenty to talk about over the next few months. Of course, I am still here to talk acting and answer questions about anything. If you have a question, don’t be shy. We can talk Strasberg, Stanislavsky, Mamet (if you are brave), or Meisner (or sushi!).

Be brave. Bring your questions.

Published in: on May 6, 2009 at 8:25 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

What is Method Acting: A straight answer

Most actors are afraid to admit that they don’t really know what Method Acting is. They don’t want to look stupid so they don’t ask.

But they should.

Method Acting is the search to find  a moment of actual experience in your acting – a moment of living – as opposed to the outward appearance of living. An actor who does our work actually experiences something when they act, rather than looking like they are experiencing something.

Stanislavsky committed his life to this pursuit of truth in acting, what he called “Perezhivanie.” Lee Strasberg, my father, picked up the baton and devoted his life to the same quest.

Konstantine Stanislavsky

Konstantine Stanislavsky

The russian word used by Stanislavsky, strictly meaning “experience,” is usually translated as ‘living through,” meaning the desire for actors to, as my father said, “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Instead of an actor indicating what he or she wants the audience to understand, the actor should experience those things that he or she wishes to convey.

That is why we talk about truth. It is more than reality. It is more than being natural. Those are issues of style rather than content. Truth is about the undeniable experience of really living something. It is powerful and magnetic, and it is an ability that all of our greatest actors have mastered.

This answer is not just a matter of theory. It is the explicit goal of our training, and it is the measuring stick that each actor should look to in order to evaluate their work. Are they experiencing a truth, according to their own senses, while they work or are they just faking it? If you can experience something with great conviction, then you are already probably in the top echelon. You can move on to the more stylistic issues of character, genre, and storytelling.

If you are faking it, it’s back to the drawing board.

That is what every actor should be asking themselves. Am I just acting the lines? Am I telling you what I think I  should be saying in a manner that conveys the way I think the character should be feeling? That is what most actors settle for.

Method Actors want more. We want to contribute something creative to the process. We have the guts to share our unique response to moment rather than being boxed in by cliche or convention. We are determined to give some of ourselves to the role and to the story in that very instant of “living through.” That, after all, is what Perezhivanie is all about. All the other wrangling aside, that is what Stanislavsky sought. That is what Lee Strasberg insisted on without compromise. Its what makes us special, and it is why our actors are the best.

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 10:16 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

¡Concentrar!

I’m here in Mexico supporting a former Strasberg Student, Alberto Sosa, who has put on an arts festival, and “Concentrar” is a Spanish word I have used more in the past the past two days than in my entire life prior.

Our challenge has never been to find talented actors – there are lots of them – but rather to train, convince, cajole those actors to really focus.

In the comments section of the prior post I said that concentration is THE tool for the actor. OK, most people would agree. It is a good and necessary thing, but it begs the question, “what do I concentrate on?”

This is where my father, inspired by the work of Stanislavsky, made a great contribution. If you teach acting, you will notice that most actors think a lot about their scene and what is going on. The idea of given circumstances is fairly widespread at this point. But that is where most actors stop and settle for mediocre or uneven work.

You need to do more. To be more specific and more detailed (especifico y con mas detalles, for those scoring at home). I train actors to concentrate on one small aspect of their circumstances. Don’t worry about the argument that is about to happen – you only know it will happen because you read the script. That is not part of the circumstances. Don’t worry about what you think you should be feeling. That is territory for discovery rather than decision. What you DO need to do is to focus on the small details of LIFE. Pay great attention to the little things that make up the act of living.

Richard Boleslavsky [see the recommended books] described the way in which a human being struggles for everything. You wash your face – you struggle with the cloth, the water, the soap. These challenges are much smaller than, but essential to, the greater struggles and conflicts of a story. It is here that an actor must do his work. The writer may work with grand ideals and concepts, but the actor must supply the essential ingredient of life. And life is made up of all of these minor struggles.

So this is where you must concentrate. Don’t just go and randomly take action. Put your attention, your full focus on something as you work. Where are you? Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you doing there? If the other actor did not enter or never started the scene, what would you be doing? These are the small realities of life that unlock your humanity.

My father said, ‘you don’t need to give me the whole ocean, just a few grains of sand.” Take it to heart. Don’t give the whole story. Don’t give me the scene, and don’t show me what it all means. You just find those few grains of sand that you can experience and you are on the road to great acting. 90% of a movie is all about that. Only in very few moments do we need a heightened intensity (the waves crashing on he shore, to continue the metaphor).

As an added benefit, if you are directing yourself as most actors do for auditions and scene work, this concentration often leads to behavior and activity that will block much of the scene for you.

By the way, if you want proof, just go and watch the Godfather films (either of them). These are well-trained actors across the board, and you will notice the scenes are quite simple. My father greets Pacino while they are watching a game and eating lunch, or cutting a cake at a birthday party, or brothers eating around a table, or guys cooking or playing cards. The entire movie is made up of these small moments – each one of them a minute struggle for an actor – that all add up to some of the richest and most captivating stories ever put to film.

Method Acting Works

I was laid out with the Flu recently, and it gave me a little time to search the internet to see what is out there on Method Acting found this article written pre-Oscars, that suggests that Method Actors are more likely to win in Oscar season.

Specifically, the writer does a tally that concludes “more than 100 Oscars have been won by Method actors…..” Further, it offers the following statistic: “Since 2000, around 75 per cent of Oscar winners have been Method actors….”

I will admit to not having done the research on those numbers, but intuitively they sound about right. So does that mean that classical training (the preferred option in much of the UK and the rest of Europe) is no good? Of course not. A great actor can come from anywhere, and our work only ADDS to the technical skills that a classical training can build.

What it does suggest, though, is that the kind of connection to your work that Method Acting encourages makes for a strong bond with the audience. I mention this because some people mistakenly believe that an actor’s focus on their own reality somehow takes them away from the story and away from the audience.

In practice, we see the opposite. The more focused you are on what you are doing, the more the audience watches, understands, and connects to you and your character.

Have you ever watched a room of people with a baby crawling around? Eyes are immediately drawm to the small creature. We are fascinated. The baby couldn’t care less about us or what we are doing. It is completely immersed in its world, and we cannot pull our eyes away. That kind of focus is powerful, and it is a skill we actively build.

I once ran an audition where an actor brought her young golden retriever puppy into the theater with her. Big mistake…. The director and I could not stop watching the dog! Every time she would speak, the dog would move its head slightly or wag its tail and we were mesmerized. It led to the director suggesting that we cast the dog instead!

Concentration is the muscle that we begin to exercise in the very first class, and it leads directly to the kinds of results that move audiences.

Published in: on March 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , ,

“If you cannot be on time, be early.” – Lee Strasberg

The Obama administration is considering lengthening the US public school year. Even if you are not a kid in public school (or the parent of that kid), this still matters to you.

One of the things we find over and over again is the nothing great happens without hard work. You want to improve your academic performance? More time in school helps. More studying helps. More attention to your homework helps. That Makes sense.

You want to be a better actor? Same rules apply.

“I used to think as I looked at the Hollywood night, ‘there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.'”
– Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn had it right, and she didn’t just dream. She worked hard. Despite commercial success as a film star, she took a break and moved to NY to study with my dad and improve her acting. It worked. Her talent blossomed and she started to take control of her career. She had talent and beauty, but she also had the courage to commit herself to getting better at her craft.

As someone who was notorious for being late, she once famously told me dad that she was ‘incapable of being on time.’ My father’s response? “Darling, if you cannot be on time, be early.” And she was. For his class she would come early and wait.

But what if you are already in class? Then what?

1) Get there early. Prepare yourself while you wait. Look over your scene, begin to search for tension in your body that you can release to improve your concentration and expression. You can squeeze hours of extra time out of your training just by not wasting the first 20 minutes of time settling in. Come ready to work.

2) Don’t just wait for class. Find more to do. Many actors are in class only one or two times a week. Some lucky ones might have class 5 or 6 times a week. But even that is not enough. I recently finished a book, Outliers: The Story of Success, by my current favorite writer, Malcolm Gladwell. A central point of the book is how success comes out of moments when special opportunity meets a person who has put in a tremendous amount of work to become great at what they do.

It is not enough to get the mythical Lucky Break. Yes, you need a break along the way, but you also need to be really good at what you do so that when you get a chance you are ready to deliver. If you are an actor you need to be an actor more than 4, or 10, or even 20 hours a week. You are an actor every day. So rehearse, practice, and don’t stop.

3) Make yourself great. Find extra time to enhance your abilities. When you brush your teeth, pay attention to what you feel in your body (your gums, but also your lips, your hands, your feet – really look at yourself in the mirror). You can make yourself more aware and more observant.

Try out accents. When you can talk to your grocery clerk without him/her looking at you funny you are making progress.

When you watch a movie, don’t be a passive fan. Watch as an actor. Pay attention and note what you see and what you feel.

Read books in your spare time (there is more of that than you think). Learn to dance. Inspire yourself with art.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a great actor (or a great anything), you need to work at it. You need to live it and work at it for as long as you can. That is the edge that Marilyn Monroe, and so many others, had that no one talks about. That is what separates the “Lucky Ones” from the rest.

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,