Lee Strasberg on the Actors Studio – Part 3
And that you, too, in common with me, have been, I think, intrigued with and interested in, though, at the same time, often I wonder and I doubt, because it does seem to me that most of the people here still seem to think in terms of whether they agree or whether they do not agree with whatever that’s being done. Which is something that we, as much as possible, try to eliminate from our discussion at the Actors Studio, because we never try to stop anybody from doing something in the way they would like to do it, and the interpretation they would like to give to it.
The only thing is, we do involve ourselves very strongly and very affirmatively, and very, at times perhaps, dogmatically in the idea that there are certain procedures that can help an actor to achieve reality on the stage. And to achieve a reality beyond what they are aware of themselves as being capable of.
Because the reality that we perceive is the reality that’s around us. We cannot possibly perceive that some of the scenes that you have seen could be done in the way that they have been done.
Sometimes I’m bothered that you people judge, “Well, if he means the play to be done that way, then I don’t think it should be done that way”, and therefore that you miss what we are trying to demonstrate, which is: That there exists in acting certain definate, logical procedures, methods, devices, exercises; technical means, in other words, for the actor to achieve results, the nature of which he himself is not yet aware of. And to create realities, without knowing in advance how those realities will even become concrete to himself or on the stage, but only by using the procedures that exist in what we may call the “method”, or the “Stanislavsky System”.
That is the primary purpose of the Actors Studio. To demonstrate that there is such a thing as a technique of acting. That there is such a thing as a procedure in acting. That these procedures are not individually conditioned, but that they relate to all actors, and to the problems that all actors experience. And these procedures are the end result of a long process of search, of investigation, of observation… mainly contributed to by Stanislavsky, but by other actors in the past that have found their way towards it without knowing what they had found. And Stanislavsky somehow, becoming aware of what they had found, built it into something called “the Stanislavsky System”, the actual meaning of which many people, even in Russia, misunderstand and are confused by, and which “the method” based itself on, and in turn took up, added to. And frankly, I believe quite honestly, made it into an international base for actors’ work.
Because the Stanislavsky work, while it was known all over the world, did not have, until “the method” came in, the extraordinary pull that it had as a result of the success of the people that represented it. And in fact, the “method” was the first time that in the entire history of the theatre a technical indication of work became generally known, though not understood, but nonetheless known.
The “method” is a word that is now widely used. That’s the first time in the theatre that anything like that has happened. In the other arts, you use the word “cubist”, “abstract art”, “modern art”, and so on and so forth. These words become general knowledge and are often used. Not in a simple technical understanding of what they involve, but become words in general usage. Never had that been true in the theatre. The first time that that was true was as a result of “the method”, that brought into language and to people’s awareness somehow something called “the method”.
The work that we are now doing in the Studio, the investigation of different kinds of plays, the way we go about demonstrating it in the exercises and the improvisations, represents to me the real and basic purpose and intention of the Actors Studio. That is what it’s for.
Now, for that… I’m going to put it a little bit crudely, forgive me, we don’t need you. We need only the people on the stage, and me, or whoever, in other words, who at the moment is in charge of the work. That’s what the people who want to be members of the Actors Studio come for. They don’t come for anyone here individually, even though individually they might be interested very much in the opinions of some of the people. So that’s why I say I’m putting it crudely, to make a point. But literally, they do not come for this. They come for what the Actors Studio represents.
Something called “the method”. Something that some people will, you know, give them to carry around which will ignite in them, and to help them on the one hand to be better actors, and on the other hand to be stars.
Why then do we have this form of organization whereby when the actors do work, we then ask, “Who has something to say?” What is the point if you haven’t anything to say, if, essentially, as I just crudely, but nonetheless quite positively stated that that is not what your presence is for.
I was responsible for bringing that in to the American theatre generally, and especially into the Actors Studio. In fact, when people come from abroad, this is one of the first things that shocks them and surprises them, and usually they say, “This would not be possible in our country. The actors would be so terrible to each other that nobody would be able to work.”
That is not what the Actors Studio is for. Here, even when that’s done, it’s kept within limits by the presence of whoever is in charge. All that we’re concerned with is to show what the actor is capable of, and what the scene is capable of. And if whoever is in command, whoever is in charge, does it one way or the other, it’s all for the good.
I ask for your comments not in order to hear your comments, quite frankly, but in order to make you active. So that the people sitting here would know that they weren’t just watching as an audience, who would then just listen to what Kazan, or Arthur Penn or anybody else had to say. But that they would have to think. And by whatever they then said, they would really disclose their own stage of work, the stage that they are at. And therefore, when they said whatever they said, and when the moderator would then summarize, they would learn how wrong that they were, or how inadequate, or how they were looking for different things than what should be looked for, and so on.
It was done as part of a work process, not for you to tell the people on the stage what to do, but for you to share your ideas, so we would be able to see what you were getting out of it. And therefore, in our comments we would be able to refer to your impressions of the work as much as the people doing it, and thus deal with erroneous ideas, or inconclusive ideas, or immature observations, or wrong observation, or observation directed towards different channels than what we believe it should be directed to in order for the actor to achieve his best work technically. Not his best work interpretationally. That varies with the director.
Which means, that regardless of what interpretation you have, to find how best to achieve it with the greatest degree of reality, and with the greatest intensity and excitement, and so on.