The Director’s Cut

    Ed Casas
     Director, Actor’s Cultural Theatre
 

The Director’s Cut: Method or Madness?

The creative process for artists can be a mystery and left to speculation by the casual observer, with technique and study oft disregarded as a result of “natural genius” or “born talent”. 

Questions like “How did Shakespeare write Hamlet?” or “How did Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa?” or “How did Houdini escape the Chinese Water Torture Cell?”  have spawned many a debate in the respective circles of the aforementioned artforms. The artform of acting is no different with fans and patrons of film and theater prompting themselves over the decades to ask “How did they do that?”.

If it were not for modern acting pioneers like Stanislavski and his Moscow Art Theatre the question of  “How did they do that?” in regards to the craft of acting may have never been brought to light.

It was an overseas trip to the states that brought modern acting to the Americas, providing audiences with naturalistic, “real people” to the stage, losing the traditional trappings of melodramatic, stylized theatre. 

Stanislavski’s System, demonstrated on the stage by the Moscow Theater Group, inspired the young members of 1931’s Group Theatre to present their own naturalistic productions.

It was at The Group Theatre, America’s first theatrical collective, where Lee Strasberg would begin to formulate his own theories on acting.

The Group Theater ended in 1941, but evolved into the Actor’s Studio in 1947 with Group Theater member Elia Kazan acting as director until heading to Hollywood. Strasberg would take over the role of director and enhance his “method” and acting technique inspired by the naturalistic acting of Stanislavski’s System.

The Method included emphasis on elements of The System such as the techniques of the “magic if” and sense memory.

“I don’t teach the Stanislavski System, I teach the Strasberg Method.”
Lee Strasberg

Strasberg stated that his use of improv and affective memory were at the heart of his technique.

The use of affective memory has been controversial, linking the technique to the turn of the century revolution in psychiatry and psychoanalysis which prompted patients to relive traumatic events from their past in the hopes of exorcising past psychological demons.

Stella Adler herself, steered away from Strasberg’s use of affective memory, calling it a misinterpretation of Stanislavski’s emotional memory. 

Kazan’s experience with Strasberg would aid him in directing and casting films that would feature actors versed in the Method, students who trained under both Stella Adler and Strasburg, actors like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954), and East of Eden (1955) with James Dean. 

Another director who had complete faith in The Method was Sidney Lumet. Lumet was a part of The Actor Studio and saw Strasberg’s technique at work. Lumet would often cast actors well versed in the Method like Al Pacino to work in such films as Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975).

One of the other critiques of Method Acting is the belief that actors will literally loose themselves in their roles, remaining in character off-stage and off-camera.

Strasberg had stated that Stanislavski had mixed results with his actors living “in-character” off stage and has stated himself that it is “not Method Acting.”

Modern actors like Daniel Day Lewis are reported to remain in character after filming, adopting his character’s mannerisms while away from the camera.

When Laurence Olivier had heard that Dustin Hoffman was depriving himself of sleep and not showering to prepare for his scenes in Marathon Man (1976) quipped “Why don’t you try acting?”

“Method Acting is what all actors have always done whenever they acted well. But The Method–it’s how you get there.”
Lee Strasberg

Realistic, naturalistic acting should always be the goal of the professional actor. How an actors gets to a moment of pure “truth” on stage is up to what works best for them.

Actor’s Cultural Theatre is accepting auditions for those actors that wish to become a member.

Always audit an acting class to see if it’s the right class for you.

Never stop training!

Submit Your ACT Membership Application Today!

Members of ACT scoring their scripts with beats & actions.

 

Constantin Stanislavski
Lee Strasberg
Elia Kazan

The Director’s Cut

    Ed Casas
     Director, Actor’s Cultural Theatre
 


Actor’s Cultural Theatre comes from a long-tradition of actor-centric, ensemble cast theatrical groups. ACT, INC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is funded in part by the Broward Cultural Division, Florida.

 

Konstantin Stanislavski, the Father of Modern Acting
Lees Strasberg, The Godfather of Acting and creator of The Method
 Elia Kazan, director of several films featuring “method” actors. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Stella Adler
Sandford Meisner
Herbert Berghof
Uta Hagen

A Brief History of Modern Acting

The history of acting is rooted in the deep past, as far back as when people first danced around a fire and assumed the role of the animals that they shared the earth with thousands of years ago. 

Modern acting is a far more a recent invention compared to the discovery of fire, with the father of modern acting, Konstantin Stanislavski, passing away just 83 years ago in 1938.

Stanislavski and his Moscow Art Theatre brought naturalistic theater to the stage at a time when melodramatic acting was the norm. It was through Stanislavski’s “system” of acting that modern acting was born.

It took an overseas visit from the Moscow Art Theatre in the 1920’s to inspire American actors to perform in a naturalistic form and to portray real people on stage as in the case of The Group Theatre.

The Group Theatre was formed in 1931 by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lees Strasberg. 

“We wanted to start a theater that should represent, be a mirror to America, a mirror of American life, show the face of America, and stimulate.”
Lee Strasberg

 

Members of the Group Theater would go on to do great things in film and stage. Group Theatre alumni include director Eli Kazan,  and acting teachers Stella Adler and Sandford Meisner to name but a few.

The Group Theater came to an end in 1941, but spawned a creative descendent in 1947 with the forming of the Actor’s Studio by Kazan, Crawford and Robert Lewis.

Strasberg would join the non-profit workshop and would take-over the reigns as director when Kazan left for Hollywood.

It would be Kazan’s experience with the Group Theatre and the Actor’s Studio that would aid him in directing films that would exemplify the acting techniques of Adler and Strasburg. Kazan films starring Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954), and East of Eden (1955) with James Dean brought naturalistic acting to the silver screen and to a larger audience. 

“If Stanislavski is considered the Father of Modern Acting then Strasberg is the GODFATHER of Modern Acting.”
Ed Casas, Director of 
Actor’s Cultural Theatre

Strasberg developed The Method while at the Actor’s Studio, an acting technique derived from Stanislavski’s System, meant to encourage emotionally expressive, naturalistic behavior, and realistic characters on stage. 

Strasberg himself stated that his use of improv and affective memory were at the heart of his technique. It was the technique of Strasberg’s method that propelled the careers of Dustin Hoffman, James Dean, Al Pacino and countless others.

In addition to Kazan, other directors trained under Strasberg like Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network) who would employ Strasberg trained actors in their films. 

Affective memory was a divisive concept between Strasberg and Stella Adler who in 1949 founded her own studio where she focused on imagination and the “given circumstances” of a scene. In the years following she would instruct a cadre of award-winning actors like Brando, De Niro, Keitel and many more.

Sandford Meisner, an alumni of the Group Theatre escaped the shadow of Strasberg and created his own technique which included repetition exercises of repeating the same phrase or words

The history of modern acting would be incomplete without the contributions of Herbet Berghof, a member of the Actor’s Studio whose fellow classmates included Montgomery Clift, Sidney Lumet, and Marlon Brando. Berghof too had some creative differences with Strasberg, and founded his own HB Studios.

HB Studios was lead by Berghof and his wife Uta Hagen who would go on to create an acting technique all of her own. Berghof created the studio as a place where working actors could practice their craft free from commercial pressures.

History continues to be made and the craft of acting continues to grow and evolve, with actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Gary Oldman completely disappearing into the roles of the characters they play.

Actor’s Cultural Theatre is open to new members who are interested in a self-study and  who may wish to take part in a weekly collaborative of like-minded artists.

Always audit an acting class to first see if the style and technique of the instructor matches your own unique learning requirements.

Note: Actors like Brando, De Niro, Pacino, and others did not limit themselves to one instructor, rather they trained with several of the aforementioned teachers and studios.

Submit your Video Audition Today!

The Director’s Cut

    Ed Casas
     Director, Actor’s Cultural Theatre
 

  ACT members Ed Casas and Tuwana Dumond performing sketch-comedy at The Catskills Comedy Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

 

Non-Acting Tips for Actors

While performing with a sketch-comedy group I had thought of some helpful little tips on acting that had little to do with performing.

  • Arrive On Time
    This is one of those little tips in life that I have to remind myself of. While South Florida has its host of traffic nightmares, you being 15 minutes late could be wasting the time of your fellow cast-mates and could be perceived as a lack of commitment to the production.
  • Bring Your Script
    Ultimately it is the individual actor’s job to have their script in their hands.
  • Bring and Use Props & Costuming
    Get used to performing with props and complicated costuming while in rehearsal. Do not mime a gun with a pointed finger, nor hold an invisible phone; incorporate the props as soon as possible and get used to performing in high-heels, mask, cape, whatever the costuming is that can potentially cause issues during the final performance. 
  • Have Somebody On Script
    Complicated dialogue or not, having one cast or crew-member on script will insure that the writer’s intent is fulfilled. 

 

Submit your Video Audition Today!