'For over a century there have been many styles of writing. An author has many years in which to explore these styles, past and present. The young actor must make all these changes in style come alive in the present.'
The following is from "The Technique of Acting," by Stella Adler, published by Bantam Books this month. Stella Adler, the famous acting teacher, opened the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in New York City in 1949 and the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting West in Hollywood in 1986.
"Would that the stage were a tightrope where no incompetent would dare to tread."
GOETHE IS, OF course, speaking from an author's point of view. It is the actor's tremendous and frustrating challenge to act in plays written by Goethe and other great playwrights. Actors have to communicate complex and subtle ideas, like those that appear in Strindberg, Ibsen, Shaw and Arthur Miller.
The modern actor must have virtues that the playwright, perhaps, does not have, and one is the instinct that awakens the actor to act. That instinct is stronger than we know or can analyze. An actor's total being--mind, spirit, soul and that unanswerable essence that is talent--must be devoted to his craft. In this life, most people are forced to use only one side of themselves. All those other selves create a unique unquiet in the actor's soul, and that is what provokes the actor's talent to be heard.
For over a century there have been many styles of writing: Realism, Expressionism, Symbolism and so forth. An author has many years in which to explore these styles, past and present. The young actor must make all these changes in style come alive in the present. To overcome the hurdles, the young actor today may look to an acting school, and this is perhaps the first step that leads him to the profession of acting.
'The actor has in him the collective consciousness. It's as if all knowledge and all wisdom are contained in his mind.'
Often, the actor comes with no standards. In other periods of the theater, the novice was influenced by actors of great talent. The novice entered the stage carrying a spear and, in this way, slowly learned his craft from the great ones, like Salvini and Kean. In more recent times, acting schools were often attached to theaters, and eventually the actor became part of the theater. First they became actors--and then directors and teachers as well. The Moscow Art Theatre is an example of this.
The history of playwrights reveals their unbelievable knowledge; many have traveled, known paintings, literature and music, and thus prepared themselves to write plays of distinction. And so must writers and scenic and costume designers have a through-line from the cultural past that strongly influences their work today.
In our moment in history, there are no standards for the actor, and often not for the teacher. Since the 1930s, all social rules for the actor have changed; his behavior, the way he dresses, his speech. All these facts have created an individualism in each actor that rules out the teacher's ability to judge him. The teacher knows that each actor comes without any values, and, in spite of this, a talent may lie dormant.
The actor of the present time has to be helped. Here the teacher's influence is very specific. The teacher guides the actor as he begins to work with ideas. The explanation of the author's text, the behavior of the character, the style, the language, the play's rhythm--these awaken the actor to experience the life and style of the playwright.
Arriving at this awakening jolts the actor into realizing that his soul, his spirit and his intellect have size. Just being an ordinary guy or girl is not enough. As we are today is not enough for the actor and, what is more important, not interesting for the audience.
The actor has in him the collective consciousness. It's as if all knowledge and all wisdom are contained in his mind. Through his vast imagination he inherits the wisdom of his ancestors without having had the personal experience. The actor, throughout history, has always had a deep and cosmic understanding. The teacher can now capture this understanding and release the actor's imagination. The actor can now grow and approach the life and style of many modern playwrights from Ibsen to the present.
The actor's imagination now takes in the character's life. He can deal specifically with the author's play, with the morality, ethics, education, family life, sexual life, religious belief and profession of the character. This approach gives the actor a control and creates an inner security. The marriage of his mind with his inner depth is the road to this independence in the profession. His inherited, instinctive knowledge of human beings will always come to his rescue.
From "The Technique of Acting," by Stella Adler. Copyright 1988 by Stella Adler. Reprinted by permission of Bantam Books.