Tag Archives: theater

Method, Script & Action: Holland Taylor on Stella Adler

Holland-TaylorWhile writing Stella Adler’s biography, I interviewed Holland Taylor, but I didn’t videotape our conversation. Thankfully, we have this five minute video, in which Taylor crystallizes Stella’s teachings as accurately as any student of Stella’s I’ve heard. Disciples truly do carry on the work. 

 

Listen: At the Table with Sheana Ochoa

This is an unedited chat with Kelly Lincoln, not a “formal” interview, that we held in the Bronx while I was on my NYC book tour on June 1, 2014. You can listen here.

Onstage & Backstage

Sheana Ochoa, author of Stella! Mother of Modern Acting, visited Kelly Lincoln of At the Table. Together, they discuss “the great, ahead of her time Stella Adler, and how the Yiddish Theater birthed American Theater.”

00121937>>LISTEN HERE<<

Arthur Miller decided to become a playwright after seeing her perform with the Group Theater. Marlon Brando attributed his acting to her genius as a teacher. Theater critic Robert Brustein calls her the greatest acting teacher in America.

At the turn of the 20th century – by which time acting had hardly evolved since classical Greece – Stella Adler became a child star of the Yiddish stage in New York, where she was being groomed to refine acting craft and eventually help pioneer its modern gold standard: method acting. Stella’s emphasis on experiencing a role through the actions in the given circumstances of the work directs actors toward a deep…

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Elia Kazan, Stella Adler & Falling for Harold Clurman

ClurmanTheatreToday I made a new friend on Goodreads who noticed I had written a biography on Stella Adler and said she was “interested in learning about her.” I asked if she had ever heard of Stella. Negative. Then I asked if she had heard of Lee Strasberg. Her answer should have been predictable to me at this point in my journey, but I continue to think for some reason that if people outside the theater and entertainment industry don’t know who Stella is they would logically not know who Lee Strasberg is. That is not the case. Her answer: “Yes, absolutely.”

I wanted to ask if she knew who Harold Clurman was, but I already knew that Clurman’s name has fallen into as much obscurity as Stella’s. And yet, Clurman, as much as Stella and Strasberg, influenced modern day theater and cinema, which is best illustrated through his “apprentice” Elia Kazan.

In 1932 twenty-two year old Kazan met Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg seeking an apprenticeship in their collective, the Group Theatre, a Depression-era socially-conscious ensemble founded the previous year that would revolutionize American theater. In the interview Kazan rather boldly told Strasberg, the Group’s director, that he wanted his job. Strasberg didn’t like the joke. Still, Kazan would be accepted into the Group and turn out to be one of the most influential directors on both stage and screen of the twentieth century. However, it was Clurman whom Kazan gravitated toward. He would diligently take notes during rehearsals Clurman directed and follow Harold everywhere, studying him. Stella Adler, irked since she was used to that particular kind of adoration, flippantly asked Kazan if he were “queer.”

Kazan, Brando, Julie Harris and James Dean, 1955

Kazan, Brando, Julie Harris and James Dean, 1955

Years later, after Kazan founded the Actors Studio, after he had won an Academy Award for On the Waterfront (which established Marlon Brando as one of the greatest actors of his generation); after he had made an icon of the gifted James Dean in his film East of Eden; he wrote that Clurman’s

directorial style was essentially different from Lee’s. He encouraged actors and admired them, instead of confronting them with their inadequacies. . . . He had the culture to know that if you attempt difficult tasks you’re bound to fail as often as not. . . . Harold made me feel that artists are above all other humans, not only in our society but in all of history. I’m not impressed with any other elite, not of money, power, or fame. I got that from Harold.

One cannot write Stella Adler’s biography without also writing Harold’s. They were born the same year, they revered the Yiddish theater, they wanted to build a national theater, they married, and when that union dissolved, they remained life-long friends. And yet, I had no idea what Harold meant to me until I actually had a chance to read the biography after it was completed. This was my reaction:

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. Continue reading