Lee Strasberg on the Actors Studio – Part 4
For that, often, we don’t give you things and say, “If you do this, it’ll get you where you want to go.” We say, “No, if you do this, you will find where you want to go.” And that’s why, when we see, for instance, something like, in the last session, with the actress starting with certain ideas, then we see how those ideas may be very sound… I have nothing against them… but they do not help her to achieve the results.
She says she uses a “private moment” [exercise], but she doesn’t really quite do it. We then say, “Fine. Don’t worry about your interpretation. Use the private moment, see where it will carry you. And we then find that suddenly it carries her into doing the scene in a way that’s so original. I don’t care whether it’s the right way for the moment, but that she finds such new ways of doing the things… ways which I couldn’t perceive, she couldn’t perceive, I don’t know that anybody here could perceive.
And that’s found not by knowing in advance that that’s what I’m looking for, but only by subjecting oneself to some of the procedures that exist in our “method”, so to say, in our work. And as a result of that, arriving at conclusions, this is what makes the work exciting.
Your comments, then, should be two-fold. First of all, there are times literally when I want an honest reaction and no more. When I don’t want a technical reaction. I don’t have to wait for your technical reaction for me to have a technical reaction. So, frankly, that is not, most of the time… there are times, by the way, when people observe things and draw them to my attention, so don’t think that I can’t be faulted, or there are not things that you can see that I’ve missed… there are… but that’s not the basic thing that your presence is for.
There are times, for instance, as, in some of the last two sessions, when I want the people just to have an honest reaction, and I want them to be able to say, “I didn’t believe a word that was going on, I don’t know why. I’m not going to tell you how to do it. I’m not an expert. I’m looking forward to seeing what people have to say. All I know is, I didn’t quite believe.”
Because I want the people on the stage often to know that what I will tell them is not a solitary opinion, but that other people share the same thing.
When then, however, the people then comment and tell the actor that what he did was wonderful, and so on and so forth, then we really have a problem. The problem is not with the actor, the problem is with you. It’s your willingness to accept a certain kind of acting as being good acting. And if it is, then obviously we need neither the Actors Studio nor your presence, because, frankly then, there’s nothing much to be gained either way if that is the standard that is to be accepted.
We can ask the question, “How come, if I believe that this acting is bad, and there’s better acting, and so on, how come the audience is satisfied with the bad acting that exists?” And the answer is, “The audience is satisfied with anything that comes up to the level that it is accustomed to. If all the pears that you see are green pears, those are the pairs that are going to be good pears. You’re not going to know anything else. In fact, when somebody brings you a good pear, you’re for a moment going to be a little shocked, a little startled. Maybe when you taste it, you say, ‘Oh, this is different. Yes, I think it is good.'”
In other words, the standards are set not by what we know, because we don’t know… the standards are set by what is in our environment. In acting, therefore, people are accustomed to what they see. And therefore, the standard that is set for us, the standard for achievement is what we see achieved around us. That is not what the Actors Studio accepts. The Actors Studio accepts the standard of the highest level of what acting is capable of, and of what the actor’s talent is capable of… of the possibilities that are inherent in the scene, of the investigation necessary for that, and so on.
So that the comments that we ask from you are frankly not comments to tell your fellow actors what they should do. Why should they take your word for it when you yourself have just as much difficulty in doing it? One person says one thing, another person says another thing… who are you going to believe?
So that in this area, the sharing of the comment is more for seeing are you right in your observation, are you seeing the right thing, are you sharing with the actor on the stage experience that you’ve had, not, “I’ll tell you what to do,” but, “I don’t know what to do, but I remember, I had this problem, in fact, I never solved it. What would be the solution?” That kind of contribution is always sound, no matter how wrong it is. Because it is always real, it is always personal.
Too much of your comments tend to be comments of, “I will tell you what to do.” And then what happens is that creates on the one hand a false and erroneous idea of what is actually the reality. To give an honest reaction, to say, “I could not follow what you were doing”, fine. But then don’t say, “I couldn’t follow because you didn’t do this or your didn’t do that”, as if you knew, and therefore if he does it, it would work out.
So, I felt that I wanted to take this time, instead of cancelling the session, really to share with you some of this, because otherwise sometimes my comments are abrupt, or you raise your hand and I kind of look away, and then, especially the observers here, become very annoyed, when their opinion is not respected, to the extent that I sometimes have to say quite simply, “You are not here to tell us something. You are here so that we should tell you something. And if you don’t feel that we should, then I don’t know what you’re doing here. You didn’t come into the Actors Studio to teach. You came into the Actors Studio to learn.”
Now sometime, we like to treat people to a certain extent as equal people, you see. When I am asking for a reaction and an observer raises his hand, I will let him because he’s an individual, he’s a human being, he’s an audience, and I want to get an audience reaction at that time and therefore will permit it.
Sometimes, for instance, when we are technically involved I won’t let observers because I don’t know that they know the technical things that we are involved with. So therefore, I will look for help, or aid or participation from the members, only because I know that they know what we’re talking about. They may be wrong, but they have a right to be wrong, if you know what I mean.
But with the observer, I don’t know what his technical knowledge is, and therefore I don’t know what he will suddenly, you know… start to say here, which has no relation to what we’re concerned with, and which will only throw an individual.
Our standards are at a high, by which I mean they are standards by which we ourselves don’t come up to. Within the Actors Studio, the people that represent the highest in the Actors Studio, are often most severely criticized. And people who have not yet attained that “star thing”, and so on, do work here and we say, “That’s the kind of work, that’s what it is, these are the procedures, these are the things that we would like other people to use”, so that we do not differentiate in terms of external achievment or professional achievement, though on the other hand, we do not disrespect professional achievement wherever that comes from. But, professional achievement is not yet a reason for being in the Actors Studio. There are people who are professionally very capable, yet frankly who would have great difficulty coming in as member of the Studio, only because we don’t see what further things they’re capable of. So we are very happy that they feel that they would gain some stimulus from their presence in the Studio, but if they wanted to become members, we might have to turn them down. Not because they’re bad, but because we do not see… anybody that comes into the Studio comes in for the possibilities, never for what has been achieved.
If what has been achieved is what they came for, then they don’t need the Actors Studio, obviously they’ve already achieved it, what more can the Actors Studio give them?
So the Actors Studio can only give them something if there is something more yet that they have not yet achieved. Where we see that, naturally there’s a reason for membership. Where we don’t see that, we often have great difficulty, because people then are puzzled: “Took in somebody else? Well she’s not as good as I am”, and they’re completely right. And it’s a very difficult thing to explain, because at a certain point we can’t explain it. Since, if somebody comes in, we may find that we are wrong, that that individual has things, but they may not be obvious.
I know many people have come into the [Strasberg] Institute, for instance, and whose work blossoms and develops. But we do not in advance know where it will go, until they start to do the work. And the same thing might be true here, but these are some of the problems that we face.
This is actually the basic thing that I wanted to share with you, so that you should realize that often my temperament or my annoyance doesn’t come from any one thing. It comes from a very basic thing, which I feel the Actors Studio does stand for, and must continue to stand for. And when it doesn’t stand for that, frankly there’s no reason for it. It’s not a place just to come, and to enjoy yourself, and so on and so forth, and see other people. And that’s a little bit what the Actors Studio was becoming, much too much, and therefore didn’t satisfy not only my requirements, but when the people came here, uh, Arthur [Penn] and other people, I must say they were very dissatisfied with what they saw, and they kept after me to do something about it.
Fortunately the people here also had feelings of dissatisfaction, and therefore you try to work something out, which, on the whole, has begun to work.
In addition to the work that we do here, I must say that we like to see in our work what we call “projects”, where actors bring in work of playwrights, or work of directors in the actors unit, so that the actor’s work can be checked and evaluated, and the director’s work and the playwright can get the benefit of that.
But to teach, the Institute is much better setup to teach. This is not a teaching process in the playwright and director’s unit, and even in the actor’s unit it’s not quite a teaching process. It is more of a studio process, which means letting the people bring in their problem to solve, whereas at the Institute, we set the problems. That sets a “school” procedure, but here is a “studio” procedure, which is essentially different, though some of the aims are the same.