Lee Strasberg on the Actors Studio – Part 5
In any process of work, you can say, “I don’t know what the play is about. I will therefore look for the realities in the play, try to bring them alive, and try to see what effect they would then have upon the scene, upon the words”, and so on. That means then that we work on the objects, on the realities, on the sensory objects and so on in a scene, that we do not leave out anything.
If we say, “Well, this person is Viking”. We don’t come to some general idea that “Viking means Viking”, standing there with, you know, with Wagnereian hat, and with a spear, and belting it out, and so on. That’s not Viking, that’s just bad Wagnerian acting and singing.
It means I will try to do what the Vikings do, what made the Viking Viking, and see in what way it makes me Viking. Otherwise, I’ll wind up just doing what, uh, Robert Mitchum and so on does when he acts Viking, you see.
Obviously, even if I could, I wouldn’t do that. You see, he can do it. He has a different build, and so on and so forth. I can’t even do that. Therefore, obviously, if I was Viking, and I assume there were Vikings like me in the Viking environment, nonetheless, it would be different. I would live by my wits, I wouldn’t live by being a Robert Mitchum Viking. Obviously. Because I’d never get anywhere. It would look like the Marx Brothers. Harpo I could do, Robert Mitchum Viking, no.
So that one way of approach is not to know, if you don’t know what the whole thing is about, not to worry about it, because we can’t always be born with a vision. But to go with a… what we call then “moment-to-moment” realities, which is not the “moment-to-moment words”, as you seem to interpret it, but which is the object. I come in, that’s what I try to demonstrate. The moment-to-moment realities. I just create each of the realitites. If it’s hot, I create heat. Then it’s cold, I see something cold, and so on. Just to see something, then to come to that.
Just to create the moment-to-moment realities, which are usually dependent on objects, or on sense memories, or on emotional experiences and so on, whatever it is, whatever the reality of that particular moment is.
When I do Three Sisters, I don’t know what to do. I have no idea about it. All I know is I want it to be alive, I don’t want it to be conventional. Then I come to each with each moment. If I have ideas about it, then obviously these ideas then stimulate me to do additional things. It doesn’t rule out the realities, but at the same time it adds something to them, which would not necessarily be there without them.
What an actor is capable of, and this is where the difficulty comes in, you can’t really see. The reality often is covered, so that nobody can tell what the actor is capable of. The only thing you can tell is, if you do this really, let us see what comes out. Now, that is a process of stimulus here, which often is not enough, because it needs training, not just stimulus. Where stimulus is enough, we get wonderful results.
Where stimulus is not enough, and training is necessary, that’s why there’s this constant thing [here] where “we want to train, we want an exercise class”, and then people don’t really do it. We organized an exercise class, partially because of the stimulus here, and my impression is that the presence of the Studio people is not as much as we had hoped for. There was a disappointment that more people from the Studio didn’t take advantage of doing that work steadily. So that it wouldn’t be something that they would talk about, but so they would really know what is the matter with the work. Or, they would find out that there is nothing the matter.
It’s in this area that often the people in the Actors Studio look for things which the Studio is not set up for, because it is not a school and never has been, and frankly never will be, especially now. Never will be. It is in that sense a studio.
There is today a wide choice, the Studio is not the only place, there are other people teaching… some people who are members of the Studio, some who aren’t. So there is no excuse for not finding your way towards whatever kind of work you think you need, whether it’s stimulus or whether it’s training, exercising and so on and so forth.
It’s very difficult to tell them [actors]. That is why a lot of times I don’t tell them. I tell them. I say, “Let’s try.” After they try, then they begin to see what we’re after.
Or, you may see that I try, after the scene, I talk to them, I try to stimulate them to get an element of reality going, then say, “You see what you’re doing now? Why didn’t you do that in the scene? Isn’t it the same thing, what you’re doing now, what you should have done in the scene?” And just to bring alive their sense of reality. That’s all that we can do. But to tell them in advance, if you limit too much to the ideas, then often it’s wrong. To tell it in advance often is dangerous.
And this is where, again, sometimes in terms of the comments, I stop people from commenting, because I feel that they are saying things which may even be right, but we have as yet no right to say now. It will hurt the actor, rather than help the actor.
The best thing in experience is that you’ve tried certain procedures, you know that they work, that you’ve tried other things, you know that they don’t work, and therefore that you start each thing that much further ahead. It shouldn’t stop you from trying to solve something that previously was not solved. But it should stop you from trying to solve it the way other people already tried and didn’t succeed.
There a lot of things very difficult to say, and frankly I don’t say them. A lot of times, I will just say, “Well, let us, for next time, try so and so, and let’s see where that will lead to.” And then when it begins to lead to something say, “Now, you see? How different it is?” And usually, the actor begins to be aware of it. Reality works for itself, and is its own measure, when it is awakened.
If you tell somebody, “This is a bad apple”, he’s used to this apple. He’s going to look at you as if you’re crazy. That’s the apple he’s used to. You have to give him a better apple. Even a piece of it. Doesn’t matter, even a piece. Say, “Now just taste this.” And he says, “Gee, this is different. I don’t know if I like it better, but it is different”, and then be perhaps interested, and say “Give me a whole apple, let’s see what will happen.”
And therefore, dogmatic as I am, I never really insist that anybody should believe or agree with me. I only insist that they should do what I tell them to do [members laugh]. It doesn’t really matter to me what they think, since what I’m interested in is only in helping them to achieve the result that I believe they are capable of.
It is true that in the many years in the past, we’ve done the work and the people who did it didn’t really know what they were doing. As a result, the explanation of it, the understanding of it is abysmally faulty. And that’s what I’m trying to do now. That was the reason for the Institute, quite honestly, and that’s the reason for the books that I’m writing, and for putting my work on tape. To try to seek what has been discovered, because I believe that I carry on the basic ideas of Stanislavsky, not just my own, and that should not go down the drain.