Interesting add on to the recent LA Times piece

I thought I would share this blog post by Charles McNulty, who wrote the LA Times article I posted recently.

Charles clearly love Estelle Parsons, featuring a picture of her in the article – and well he should. She is amazing in August: Osage County.

Still, I would rather talk about acing than about press, so over this next week I think we can talk a bit more about Stanislavsky. I get questions from actors all the time asking for clarification on Stanislavsky’s techniques, or to explain how we differ from him. It is probably time to delve into that area. Stay tuned!

-David Lee Strasberg

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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)  
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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)  
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The Low-Down On The Emotional Memory Exercise

Funny stuff. But after I stop laughing, I wonder, really, John, you were working on your dog dying?!?! You’re Strasberg-trained and one of the edgiest and most interesting actors around. A personal favorite of mine, and the best you can come up with is your dog?

[Sigh] Well, I guess it’s as good a place as any to start with Emotional Memory (often interchangeably called ‘Affective Memory’ or ‘Emotional Recall’). First of all, what is it? It is a technique by which you experience the reality from some moment of your life. You live through the sensation of that moment and trigger an honest emotional response as if that something were happening right now.

Actors have tried this without training throughout history with mixed results (usually in a desperate attempt to cry on cue). People think of a dead relative or a sad moment. Most untrained folks don’t get very far – the body rebels, muscles contract, the voice changes and restricts expression. Tears? No. Usually dry as the desert. The great Stanislavsky is famously reported to have said that he could not make the Emotional Memory work consistently.

But if that’s so, then what the heck was Lee Strasberg going on about? How do trained actors get in touch with real and powerful emotions despite the well-conditioned human tendency to repress them?

Here’s how: You start by releasing physical tension in the body (Relaxation will be a topic for another entry). You place yourself at the time you wish to experience and you ask questions: What do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I taste? What do I feel on my skin? Is it hot? Cold? Where do you feel that temperature? What part of the body? What am I wearing? Can I feel the fabric? Is there anyone else there? Can I see them? Hear them? What do they look like? What does their voice sound like? And so on.

That is the exercise. Really. That’s it. There is the scary secret uncloaked. Like most great things, its genius is in its simplicity.

We keep an actor’s attention purely on the physical sensations they can experience. You may say a woman wears too much perfume, but we want you inhale the cloying, too-sweet assault on your nose and let the gag reflex kick in. We want you to actually smell, not narrate.

When you do this, you light the match that sparks your own latent emotion  – stuff that is already in you. Plus you build the intuitive skills necessary for all great acting. Even when you are not doing an exercise, you become more observant, more attuned to your surroundings, and more responsive to stimulus, whether imaginary or otherwise.

We don’t push actors to be emotional, or create emotions. My father said emotion is like a little child, if you chase after it, it will run away. So we don’t chase. We simply look, smell, listen, taste, and touch our world, and Emotion comes out to play.

I was going to discuss the Affective Memory exercise….

But the day is only so long. Today is February 17, the anniversary of my father’s death, and we are celebrating my father’s life this evening in NY and LA. Here in LA we are screening “The Last Tennant,” a remarkable film staring my dad as an elderly man living along. There is some great work in this movie that stars Tony Lo Bianco, Christine Lahti, Danny Aiello, and our own Anne De Salvo (who is introducing the film tonight) among others. It was nominated for a couple of Emmy Awards, and we managed to get a DVD from CBS which was exciting since it can be hard to find otherwise.

In addition, I am teaching a class this afternoon from 2-6. Somewhere along the way, those actors will probably get an in-person rendition of my thoughts on the proper use of affective memory since it has been on my mind in preparation for a write up in this blog. I will include some of their thoughts and responses in my post here tomorrow. Stay tuned….

Should I have opened my big mouth?

Well, I did.

I launched into an answer to the Ten Reasons I Hate Method Acting post. I couldn’t resist.

Nice to see that there is still so much passion for the topic. In fact, Method Acting has encountered these same critiques for more than 50 years. It seems many folks simply do not agree with what we do. I can live with that I guess. My father said that if it doesn’t work then we shouldn’t be doing it, and if it does work, then what is there to argue about?

As usual, he was right, of course. We choose techniques that show themselves to be successful and drop the ones that have, as Lee  would often say “no value for the actor.” It is not about being thought right. The battle has always been to train great actors.

On that site I addressed points #1 & #2 of why this Scotish acting coach – inspried by Mamet (of course) – hates Method Acting. You can look there in the comments for that answer, but I would like to take on his reason #3. he writes:

“THREE:  Unnecessary Focus on Emotion
Acting is not emotion.  Acting is action.  The incorrect focus on emotion comes through an embarrassingly arrogant view of Stanislavski’s work that was developed by Lee Strasberg and called The Method.   We do not have control over our emotions.  We have less control over them when we’re under the kind of stress that actors feel on stage.  If we could control them, we’d be robots and no longer need therapy, counseling or Prozac!  You can fake emotion (badly) and you can force out some tears, but that’s not much of a basis for acting.  Truly great acting moves the audience, not the actor.”

This is one of the most common misunderstanding about our work – that we focus entirely on emotion. So why do people believe this? Doesn’t Strasberg use Emotional Memory? We certainly do… sometimes. There are many actors who never need to do the affective memory. They don’t need it! But for those who do, it is a god send. But our approach to emotion is often overblown. It is not the goal of an actor.

I often see our newer actors try to push an emotional result into a scene. That is almost as bad as a superficial line read where the actors indicate their emotional state with melodramatic gestures. We don’t want that.

Yet to exclude the subtext of an action – the emotional content of the moment – is to deprive the story of its living, beating heart. So I do believe that we need more than action. In fact, action without emotion looks a lot like those robots our Scotish friend mentions. But we also don’t need anguish in every moment, and sometimes a stoic response is the best one.

My dad said that “work for the actor lies in two parts, the ability to create a reality and the ability to express that reality.” What that means is that I want an actor to generate a reality that he or she chooses, inspired by the story. From that simple truth, they must live out the natural consequences of the moment.

We ask our actors to create a reality that they can experience. When they do, the audience finds themselves sitting right there in the scene with you. They feel the pains, the joys, the failure the triumph, as much as or more so than the actor themselves. In fact, the beauty of The Method is that we do not decide what the audience should feel and then give it to them. We simply live out truthfully under imaginary circumstances and the audience is moved each according to their own sensitivities.

We do not dig for emotion. We do not dredge it up. We do not push it or pull it. We simply encourage an actor to relax their self-conscious habits for a moment as they focus on a simple physical truth. Then, gently, almost magically, emotion bubbles up freely and organically of its own accord. You don’t stuff it into a scene, you immerse yourself in a moment – any moment – and the emotion finds its own way out.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who else knows what Method Acting is?

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled on an innocent forum question, “What are the significant differences between the techniques of Meisner, Strasberg and Adler, since they all stem from Group Theatre?”

three-muskateersOne responder, a teacher who wrote his thesis on this question, jetted over some general ideas about Strasberg “dredging” up emotion and then went on to attribute the core of my dad’s work to Sandy Meisner. [Sigh] I couldn’t let it stand, so I subscribed to the forum, and posted my own reply. (A special thanks to Serious Will for posting that question and giving me the shove I needed to start blogging!).

So this will be a space to get the straight talk about what we do – we train actors and directors to be better at their jobs. We show people how to inspire themselves, rather than just hoping they can get into a groove. I won’t give you the line-by line answer to those people who write the “10 Reasons I Hate Method Acting,” – there will always be ignorant people who would rather rant than learn – but I will answer questions from the comments section and share my thoughts about how you can get more out of your training or your professional work.

Acting lessons are all around us. You can learn while brushing your teeth, or noticing the homeless guy on the corner raving like a lunatic, or watching a six-year-old play soccer. I’ll tell you what I see, and you tell me what you think. I’ll also throw out questions to see what you think about the going’s on in the creative world – hey, the Oscars are coming, so you need to get out and see some of the movies up for awards this year. There are some great movies and some great actors up this year… but I’ll leave that for another post.

I started this blog because most people looking to learn about Lee Strasberg’s work run into a lot of false information and uninformed opinions, so they end up believing things about the Method that just aren’t true.

So let’s get the dialogue started. Tell me what YOU think Method Acting is all about….

– David Lee Strasberg

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 5:46 pm  Comments (9)  
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