Finding Stella Adler: A Journey from a Student of Acting to a Student of Life

By Jen Snelling, special to SALIA

Photo by Rue Drew

Photo by Rue Drew

Amidst Stella’s archives I found two over-size albums that were essentially scrapbooks of letters, cards and notes that Stella’s students had given to her over the years. I never had a chance to refer to these powerful life-changing testimonies in Stella’s biography, but their contents inspired me throughout the journey to publication. Recently, I reconnected with a student who studied at Stella’s west coast school, someone who never met Stella, and yet, Stella influenced her as intensely as the students who had penned notes to the woman herself. That Stella continues to touch the lives of people posthumously testifies to the power of her spirit. I am overjoyed to be able to share one of those stories in this guest blog by Jen Snelling.

Of all people who I could try to understand, and learn from, Stella Adler would be at the top of the list. Her students, the teachers that studied with her, her assistants and editors have given me an invaluable introduction to myself through her teachings. When I revere a person on the level of “this person changed my life” but that person remains in the realm of “but I know nothing about them” it really bothers me.

I have lamented many times that I was a generation or two too late to have learned the answers to questions I have about a great artist, and I have also been disheartened many times to know that even though there are those I might be able to cross paths with in this life, chances are I will not be able to work with them or gain the insight I want from them. Stella Adler is no exception, although, in some ways, she is the only exception.

I am one of many “students of life” that studied “the Adler technique.” In doing so, my quest to become a great actor became something much more significant. I realized that rather than becoming the best actor I could be, I had to become the best person I could be. I had to know myself, but I also had to be open to learning about experiences other than my own. That way I could present myself, and any characters I might portray, in an authentic way. I learned the significance of “the vastness” of being human and that it was my responsibility to translate those experiences to others.

The Stella Adler Theatre at the "Adler"

The Stella Adler Theatre at the “Adler”

As I wandered the halls of Stella Adler’s west coast school, enchanted by the magic of an empty stage or enthralled by the black and white photos of Stella on the walls, I felt frustrated that many people in class did not hold my same attitude of reverence.

Stella Adler had always been described to me as (or maybe I imagined her as) unrelenting to those who she saw promise in and unforgiving of those who did not take the craft seriously. We were being taught that acting was not just a profession, but also a way of life that required absolute dedication. Our bodies became our instruments and our minds were required to grow beyond our own perceived limitations. Beyond the rehearsals and notes on the scripts, we had to be willing to open up and accept our full potential. Stella would have accepted nothing less.

Entrance to Stella Adler's Hollywood school on Highland and Hollywood Blvd.

Entrance to Stella Adler’s Hollywood school on Highland and Hollywood Blvd.

Before I left the “Adler,” as students and staff refer to the school, I had written a poem called “Finding Stella Adler” about my search for her — my desire to know her. By the end of the poem my conclusion was that I had to rely on my own imagination, my own mind, to fully comprehend and appreciate who Stella Adler was. I felt an overwhelming “presence” of Stella that I still wasn’t in tune with, and I was thirsting for.

After leaving acting school, Stella Adler has continued to shape me. Even though I moved away from Hollywood and embarked on a personal journey in which I’ve gotten to know myself better – a task that I never could have begun if I was obsessively struggling my way through “the business” –I have put Stella Adler’s lessons to use in my creative life. Her philosophies have helped me develop offstage and in my fiction writing. What I learned about acting has given me great insight into and appreciation of what I see actors doing on stage, in movies and television.

Now that there is a biography on Stella Adler, I can’t wait to finally be able to “absorb” this incredible woman in a way I’ve never been able to before – beyond the dramatic stories of a teacher that changed the world and through to her innermost motivations. At last I hope to know her in a way that I was never given the opportunity before, to finally satiate that thirst.

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2 responses to “Finding Stella Adler: A Journey from a Student of Acting to a Student of Life

  1. I love this!!!
    I’ve not studied with her either, but I have a deep connection to her and her teachings. A personal heroine of mine.
    Loved reading this… And all the posts on Stella are just wonderful!
    Thank You.

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