Stella Adler Studio

INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

Spotlight On
International
Artists

INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

Spotlight On
International
Artists

 

INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

Spotlight On
International
Artists

 

Ronald Rand in Let It Be Art


Articles

Frantic Assembly

Mark Taper Forum at LA’s Centre Theatre Group 50th Anniversary

MCC Theatre

St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn

The Everyman Theatre

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

1st Stage Theater

59 E 59 Theater

Young Vic of London

Theatre Huntsville

Dance Place in Washington, D.C.

Alabama School of Fine Arts 50th Year Celebration

Rennie Harris at Baltimore Center Stage

Ronald Rand’s new book “CREATE! How Extraordinary People Live to Create and Create to Live”

What is FAFA? The Florence Academy of Fine Arts in Alabama

Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance – London’s International Drama School

Alabama Music Hall Of Fame

Historic Zodiac Playhouse — The “Z” in Florence, Alabama

Shoals Symphony Orchestra at UNA

“Grand Ball in the Belle Epoch” – Edwardian Period Style Salon

Hirschfeld on line

Hirschfeld

 When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it, don't back down and don't give up – then you're going to mystify a lot of folks.”
- Bob Dylan

“A frequent change of role, and of the lighter sort – especially such as one does not like forcing one's self to use the very utmost of his ability in the performance of – is the training requisite for a mastery of the actor’s art.”
- Edwin Booth

“But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it, and must play it till the curtain falls.”
- Edwin Booth

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
- Eleanora Duse

"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor."
- Thích Nhất Hạnh

 

 

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
– Martha Graham

“You have to live spherically — in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm — and things will come your way.”
– Federico Fellini

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and make a change.”
– Michael Jackson

“Before you take a decision, consider its effect on the next seven generations.”
– Hopi proverb:

“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
– Oscar Wilde

“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own.”
– Chinua Achebe

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
– Lao Tzu

Augusto Boal: “Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than waiting for it.”
– Augusto Boal

“Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world.”
– Lorraine Hansberry

“The highest result of education is tolerance.”
– Helen Keller

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr

“This is perhaps the most noble aim of poetry, to attach ourselves to the world around us, to turn desire into love, to embrace, finally what always evades us, what is beyond, but what is always there – the unspoken, the spirit, the soul.”
– Octavio Paz

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of our artists. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him...Art is not a form of propaganda, it is a form of truth...Art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment.”
– President John F. Kennedy

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams.”
– Gene Kelly

“The poem, the song, the picture, is only water drawn from the well of the people, and it should be given back to them in a cup of beauty so that they may drink - and in drinking understand themselves.”
– Federico Garcia Lorca

“Living consciously involves being genuine; it involves listening and responding to others honestly and openly; it involves being in the moment.”
– Sidney Poitier

“The artist must be a leader. He must be true to what is most eager, vital and boldest within himself. Only in this way can the audience gain something from him. By being awake himself, the artist must awaken the audience. This ultimately is what the audience also desires – to be awakened.”
– Harold Clurman

“Life is short, Break the Rules. Forgive quickly, Kiss SLOWLY. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably And never regret ANYTHING That makes you smile.”
– Mark Twain

“One must surrender entirely to the power of one’s artistic nature. It will do all the necessary things. Do not impose any solution upon yourself in advance.”
– Yevgeny Vakhtangov

“All I insist on, and nothing else, is that you should show the whole world that you are not afraid. Be silent, if you choose; but when it is necessary, speak—and speak in such a way that people will remember it.”
– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“As an artist, I feel that we must try many things—but above all, we must dare to fail. You must have the courage to be willing to risk everything to really express it all.”
– John Cassavetes

The Group Theatre and How it Transformed American Culture: An Event at CUNY

Co-curated by Ronald Rand & Mel Gordon
Featuring Ellen Adler, Laila Robins, Wendy Smith, John Strasberg, Fritz Weaver (and others)
Monday, June 4, 2012
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in Elebash Hall, The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
event site

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(L-R) Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford. Image as published in “Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1941″ (1990) by Wendy Smith.

We assemble in the lovely Elebash Hall of the CUNY Graduate Center this cool June Monday to celebrate, analyze, synthesize, rhapsodize about, and contend with the art and the legacy of the individuals who came together out of hope and vision and the need to make a new kind of American theatre. As one commentator says: this was “the last time the avant garde merged with Broadway theatre.” We have come together to parse that statement and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Group Theatre. What a day it is.

The celebration events have been planned by experts on the people and legacies of the Group Theatre. Ronald Rand writes and shares the legacy of Harold Clurman and his colleagues and was a student of several of the Group members. Mel Gordon writes and teaches about Stanislasky, the Group members, cinema, and related topics.  Wendy Smith, another expert who has written on the Group and several of the Group personalities is present throughout the festivities and takes an active role in the final panel of the day. Consistent with the Group members themselves who created theatre, acted and directed productions, and became teachers — the experts are themselves teachers.  This is not a static kind of knowledge. It lives and breathes and begs to be shared and debated and passed along.

The afternoon portion of the program gives us an hour-plus on three of the charismatic characters essential to the founding, short life, and lasting legacy of the Group: Lee Strasberg (1901-1982), Stella Adler (1901-1992), and Harold Clurman (1901-1980).

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Mel Gordon at the podium and Lee Strasberg in 1982. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Lee Strasberg. We are welcomed with a section of a 1982 interview with Lee Strasberg conducted by co-host Mel Gordon.  (And I feel the first rumblings of my conviction that repeat foraging adventures into the archives and interview footage held by Professor Gordon — and from which he draws for much of the day’s video content — would be a thrill.)  As with all the archival interview, screen test and other footage we are shown this day, one is both energized and frustrated by the need to edit for time. Gordon goes on to provide several slide demonstrations — on the Group exercises, and on the main plot points of the Group’s first and wildly successful play  Men in White (1933). ( I provide a summary of the history and plot of this political medical melodrama in a 2010 blog entry on a reading by a young company dedicated to producing the Group Theatre’s work called Regroup Theatre.)

CarnovskyStrasberg-wendy-smith-real-life-drama.jpg(L-R) Morris Carnovsky and Lee Strasberg. Image as published in Wendy Smith’s “Real Life Drama” (1990).

At this point one might legitimately have feared that the day was to be entertainingly filled with academic slideshows, to be passively consumed, notes dutifully taken.  The brilliance of the event curators’ vision, however, is to break up this style of information delivery to bring the events, the style, the substance of the issue at hand — acting and exercises and the people who embodied them — to life in several ways.  In our first example of instruction by physical illustration, Mel Gordon and acting teacher Robert Ellermann read and perform a reading of an affective memory exercise transcribed from 1932 involving Lee Strasberg and a young actor in rehearsal to take over a role for Franchot Tone.  Strasberg presses the actor over and over to feel to recall useful memories of place and time and feeling, and to get the actor to articulate what he sees and feels.  ”Speak in the present tense please,” Strasberg repeatedly prods the actor. “Talk as if it’s happening now.” These “sensorial details” are used, we are told, to establish the inner rhythm, to bring change to a character.

John StrasbergJohn Strasberg on the edge of the stage. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

We also learn about the legacies through teachers who embody them. The Strasberg family is represented in words, and projected images, and in the presence of Lee’s son John Strasberg, himself now a teacher, who first speaks to us during this section of the program.  Taking his seat at the edge of the stage saying that he is “not a big fan of the fourth wall,” Strasberg provides a few choice quotations.

Gordon and Strasberg reflect to close out this section of the program upon the historic transition effected by the Group.  Before the Group, according to the men, American actors-in-training apprenticed themselves to individual actors to learn their styles. The Group introduced exercises and built a sense of community goals while focusing on individual creativity and personal acting instruments.  Theatre training in America moved from individual apprenticeships to a more systematic strategy to develop and hone skills and artistic purpose.

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Mel Gordon standing before Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg — Harold Clurman is obscured (on screen) at left. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Stella Adler. Mel Gordon introduces this section of the proceedings with the gift of several minutes from his own 1985 filmed conversation with Stella Adler, then in her mid 80s. She reflects from that 50 year remove on the Group Theatre’s heyday, remarking that “I was used to the big time” so wasn’t initially keen on joining the ensemble.  When asked about historical details as reported in Harold Clurman’s 1957 book The Fervent Years: The Group Theatre and the Thirties, she notes with a laugh that his book is “great literature.”  1939 audio recordings of Adler’s monologues from Success Story (1932) and Awake and Sing (1935) are played, and we are able to enjoy, soon after the time of these storied performances, the vocal qualities of this fine actress in her youth.

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(L-R) On screen: Konstantin Stanislavsky, Stella Adler. On stage: Mel Gordon, Joanna Rotte, Ronald Rand. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

As in the section on Strasberg, we move into another enactment — these are actors and theatre historians, of course we’ll have additional dramatic readings.  Drawn from notes and letters documenting from two distinct perspectives, we hear Stella Adler and Konstantin Stanislavsky and Herald Clurman on the topic of their 1934 meeting in Paris.  Actress Joanna Rotte comes up from the audience to read Stella Adler’s 1934 notes on her meeting with Stanislavky — “It was Herald who wanted to see him and dragged me along.”

the-chart-of-the-Stanislavsky-System-1934.jpgChart of the Stanislavski System, copied down by Bobby Lewis, as presented by Stella Adler after her time with Stanislavski in Paris in 1934. Chart provided by Ronald Rand.

The name Bobby comes up frequently by the presenters during the day — referencing Robert Lewis (1909-1997), an actor who had been part of Eva Le Gallienne‘s Civic Repertory Theatre, and was the youngest founding member of the Group. Bobby’s notes provided the basis for the Stella readings for this section of the program, and it is Bobby’s handwriting (taking down Stella’s instructions to the Group) on the famous chart of the cryptic components of the Method, which was a binding and divisive force in the Group, and among actors to this day.  Debate continues on what the components mean, who supports which element, and what is the lineage and legacy of the tradition.

The Group members were taught from this method, though Lee dismissed it, preferring his approach.  Students became teachers who went out and taught what they were good at, focusing on different elements of the Method, thereby creating a rift in the theatre and in the Method, according to our presenters.

Ellen-Adler.jpgEllen Adler shares family history. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Stella’s daughter Ellen Adler takes the stage to give her memories of growing up among the Group members as family. While she did not end up going into the family business of acting, she lived among them, dated a number, and went on to a painting career. She is reflective about the personalities she knew well, a bit protective, and generous with her memories.

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(L-R) Ronald Rand and Harold Clurman. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Harold Clurman. Ronald Rand introduces his inspiration and his teacher Harold Clurman. When taking class with Clurman, Rand notes, “every time you left class with Harold, you were floating on air” imbued with humor and investment in your future and your art.  As a producer, a teacher, a critic, Harold inspires generations.

Mel Gordon digs into his archives once more for interviews with Harold himself, actor Karl Malden (who performed in a number of the Group productions), and notetaking actor and teacher Robert Lewis

Gordon provides a slide show recreation to a partial recording of Golden Boy (1937) by Clifford Odets, directed by Clurman, starring Luther Adler and Frances Farmer.  The archival treats in this section are four Hollywood features selected by Gordon to illustrate how Group actors took on movie roles that essentially reprised their stage characters in Golden Boy.  Morris Charnovsky in Thieves Highway (1949), Elia Kazan in City for Conquest (1940), John Garfield in Four Daughters (1938), and Frances Farmer in Flowing Gold (1940).

Ronald Rand concludes this section of the day by reading what he notes was Clurman’s last essay entitled “The Future of Theatre.” While the essay lays out the failed attempts over most of the 20th century to create true lasting resident repertory companies, Clurman’s observations and perhaps his philosophical tendency toward hope shines through. Toward the end of Clurman’s essay we find these inspirational words:

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The Group at Brookfield Center the first 1931 summer. Clurman at far left holding stick; Stella at far right on porch leaning forward in rocking chair. Image by Ralph Steiner.

Diary, Drama, and Legacy. The evening section provides performance, the voices of the Group Theatre members themselves, and discussion and debate over the meaning, the measure, the legacy of the individuals and their combined efforts as the Group.

Actors including Rita Fredericks, Sabra Jones, Tom Oppenheim, Elizabeth Parrish, Ronald Rand, Joanna Rotte, Penny Templeton, and Gene Terruso read sections of the Group Theatre’s Diary from their first summer at  Brookfield Center, Connecticut in 1931.  One member each day records his or her thoughts, recollections, experiences, pronouncements. Clifford Odets wrote that “the night is a loving mother.” Stella Adler wrote “I don’t know when the work finishes and life begins.”  Cheryl Crawford noted that “it’s hard to tell the truth.”  Phoebe Brand mused on the question “should an actor feel his part?”  Lee Strasberg wished that “the actor would realize how often the director’s happiness depends on him.”

We are treated to a scene from Ronald Rand’s play about the Group entitled The Group! featuring Laila Robins as Stella, Fritz Weaver as Stanislavsky, and Rand as Clurman.  The scene addresses the 1934 Paris meeting of the trio that we have heard about earlier in the day in Stella’s filmed interview and in the transcribed notes and Stanislavsky’s letters at the time.  Here we have Stanislavsky reflecting on “the Chart, the Method of physical actions … my life work.”  And as a side treat, we are honored to watch these three gifted and acclaimed actors perform.  Following this Mel Gordon gives us some final treats from his film archive — Group Theatre screen tests show scenes from Group shows Success Story, Men in White, Awake and Sing, and Weep for the Virgins.

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(L-R) Robert Ellermann, Ronald Rand, John Strasberg, Ellen Adler.
Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Panel Discussion. The final section of the day allows for teachers, students, family members, historians all to reflect on the disputes, the successes, and the legacy of the Group. My notes here are a combination of queries as posed and selected responses, and musings of my own.  I make no claim to full documentation here, but rather provide events of the day as funneled through my brain, resulting in themes and notes that resonate for me personally.

Q: What speaks to people across the generations about the Group?

Panel-left-to-right-Wendy-Smith-Mel-Gordon-Fritz-Weaver.jpg

(L-R) Wendy Smith, Mel Gordon, Fritz Weaver. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

Q: What about regional theatres with strong ensemble traditions? What about theatres like Chicago’s Stepppenwolf?

Q: Are people trained as deeply as they used to be?

Q: Someone said “an actor needs a group and groups need other groups” — where are the other groups today?

Q: Is a national theatre possible in the United States?

Final words.  Clearly these are my subjective notes on an objectively fascinating and provocative day.  Great acting, solid presentations, deep content, and deep connections to be made among schools of thought, among plays and playwrights, among the people creating the theatre and the people in their lives.  Overlapping worlds of family and commitment and needs — need to communicate, need to collaborate, need to create theatre. It seems to me that a grand next step might be to convene some of those regional long-term ensemble theatres with Group “family” such as many present in the gathering this day to discuss the Group’s legacy in concrete terms — beyond philosophy to regional reality.  Ensemble theatres, regional richness, the form and format of a “national theatre” in our rambling country, and other related topics.  Many who attended Monday’s sessions would be game to continue the conversations.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 9, 2012) Reprinted with the permission of the author. From Ms. Stekette’s website:  urbanexcavations – visit: http://msteketee.wordpress.com/. Posted by Martha Wade Steketee June 9, 2012.". •



“How do we re-establish a culture of caring? There are many things that we can and do. The arts can help. Becoming educated – but having a good education doesn’t necessarily mean that a person knows how to be a “caring” person. It’s time to re-define what “being human” means. What is it that makes us different from animals? Mainly, it’s when we accept the discipline of “being human.” When we genuinely care about each other.”
- Rita Fredricks
The Soul of the American Actor Newspaper