Lee Strasberg on the Actors Studio – Part 2
This was what the Studio was created for. This was what the Studio… the very first, second year of its existence, therefore primarily was concerned with.
When I came into the Actors Studio, I naturally therefore brought something that I stood for in the theatre. Since I had been essentially responsible for the training of the Group Theatre, of the company of the Group Theatre, and in the early productions, which set the style of the Group Theatre, I had by that time obviously created a basic approach, I felt, for the acting problem.
When I entered the Actors Studio, I simply felt that part of that I could contribute to the Actors Studio. It was never the intention of the people that started it… Kazan, Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford… to create stars. And it was not my intention and expectation to create a “temple of the method”, you see? It was simply something that we created out of our own background, and out of our own interests.
And the Actors Studio became famous, first of all because many of its people did become stars. Stars not as a result of being stars, but stars as a result of being actors. And therefore bringing on to the American Stage a new concept of the star. Something that many people bemoan, because they say the star of the past is gone. “They used to be romantic”, and so on and so forth, you see, and the stars today, you can’t tell them apart from anybody else.
The only thing is when they get up on the stage, they’re great. Well, that was our idea of acting, and that was our idea of stars. A “star” is somebody who is a great actor. Not, uh, somebody who’s a star but who can’t act, and therefore he only remains a star. That was not necessarily our idea of that.
What stimulated the people initially was proven right by the numbers of people who rose to successful achievment, and therefore demonstrated that they got something from their presence in the Actors Studio, and who therefore began to make the reputation of the Actors Studio, on both a National and on an International level, especially, frankly, through the movies.
Mr. Kazan… and the other movies that they then did, ran in through the theatres, which was rather a surprise and a shock to us… not a displeasure, but nonetheless something that we had not anticipated.
Then, about the fifties, much to our surprise, the word “method”, and “Stanislavsky” had not been used in the Actors Studio… we spoke about our procedures, my procedures, and what I advised, and so on and so forth… but by about the fifties, when Marilyn Monroe, and other people that came in and solidified the kind of National and International reputation externally at the Actors Studio, the Actors Studio became known as “the temple of THE ‘method'”.
And you probably may find in my book, or the book that has been made out of my tapes, there must be a tape there sometime around that time in which I say, “Well, now that everybody’s saying it, I might as well tell you that that’s right, that’s what we stand for. We stand for something called “the method”. We have not previously used the word here, it’s related to Stanislavsky, and so on and so forth. But that had never been anything that we had deliberately stuck down people’s throats, so to say.
It was something that we did that proved its value, and therefore the kind of way in which we did things were taken for granted. Especially when we opened the unit here [Los Angeles]. In New York, my presence and the continuing presence of many of the people that have been with the Studio in the past, and so on, and that were still geared towards the theatre, kept alive the basic procedure which was that what we were doing in the scenes was not simply to show oneself, or to make people enjoy from an audience point of view, but was to try things, to, as we commonly like to put it, “to fall flat on our faces, to have a place where we could do anything we wanted in order to see what would happen.
Especially, as I say, when we then organized the unit here, the work began to change. Not simply by the calibre of the people, but by the conditions that set the standards in an environment.
The standards here [Actors Studio-West] are set, whether we like it or not, by the movies and by television. The work in the movies and in television is on a certain level, even by those people that are capable of better. Marlon has done some very terrible things in the movies. He would never have done those terrible things in the theatre, except when he went off on his own and, you know, did that lamentable production of Shaw’s, uh, what is it called, you know… chocolate soldier… Arms and The Man, and then felt that he had already done for the theatre, and if the theatre didn’t want him then what the hell was the point of it? He deliberately obviously set it up so that the “bats” of theatre would then have an excuse not to have to come back to the theatre. I say this facetiously, I doubt that this was his intention. But I must say that the whole thing was very irresponsibly done, with a young director who I know was not even a director. He was a friend of Marlon’s… he wanted to give him an opportunity. Instead of playing the part that Marlon should have played, he deliberately let a friend of his, a good actor, but nonetheless a friend of his that would have been better in another part, play the leading part, and he took on the other part, the phony part, just to show he was willing to, in the theatre, he was willing to serve, and so on, so you can imagine what happened with that production.
And since then he’s not done anything on the stage, so that his work in the movies, as you know, has gone up and down, and so on. When he’s worked harder on certain material, or with a certain director, like Kazan, his work has been on a certain level. But, except in recent times, for reasons which I do not know, I must say his work was beginning to descend, both from an audience point of view, and from a critical point of view, to an extent where he was not even desireable as somebody you could cast in a picture.
From that point of view he had lost his standing, the public acclaim, and the last pictures have put him back. [To a member of the Studio] I’m glad to see that your brow is furrowed, and so on, but that is unfortunately true.
[The member responds] Sometimes, in order to reach certain heights, you have to go out on a limb…and it doesn’t always work. That’s genius. [Strasberg’s response to the member]Oh, no. He didn’t go out on a limb. He simply picked small trees, you see. But I’m not making a point about that. I’m really only trying to show the role and the place of the Actors Studio. And also, the nature therefore of the kind of work which on the whole we exemplify, and which we encourage at the Actors Studio, which is work very much of a kind that you have seen recently.