Stella Adler Technique of Acting: An Overview

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Stella Adler technique evolved from the initial method acting technique advocated by Stanislavsky. Every actor knows Stanislavsky is the father of the modern acting technique.

And Stella was fortunate enough to study acting directly from the Stanislavsky. As she matured, she developed her method of acting.

Before we get into the technical stuff, let me help you know the person who developed this technique or method of acting.

Who was Stella Adler?

Stella Adler was an American actress and most sort after acting coach of her time. She also founded the famous Stella Adler Studio Of Acting which is present in New York as well as Los Angeles.

Initially, she was part of American Laboratory Theater which followed Stanislaski’s system religiously. Later she joined the famous the Group Theater which was founded by Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, and Harold Clurman.

As she developed her technique of acting, she departed from the Group Theater and began teaching Stella Adler Technique.

The most famous actors who studied Stella Adler technique include Marlon Brando, Harvey Keitel, Kate Mulgrew, Elaine Stritch, Kipp Hamilton, Robert De Niro, etc.

What is Stella Adler Technique of Acting?

The ideology of Stella Adler about acting differed from those who taught the Stanislavsky system, which believed to be the main reason for Stella leaving the Group Theater.

She believed that Stanislavski’s system rely on recalling past emotional experiences. This technique is popularly knowns as emotional memory.
This method acting technique uses past experiences which according to Stella Adler may have an unhealthy effect on actors. As these experiences are personal to an actor, these experiences will never belong to the character he or she is playing.

When she trained with Stanislavski around 1934, she found out that even Stanislavski doubted the use of concepts like emotional memory. He too had changed his approach.

Stella Adler was a firm believer of actors using their imagination. She taught that actor must focus on external research of their characters. Everything needed for the role must come from their research and imagination.

So, when you learn the Stella Adler technique of acting, you will find that Stella Adler has more focus on developing imagination.

The actors who were students of Stella Adler technique

Stella Adler has been a teacher of many great actors. Following are just a few of many who show how good the Stella Adler technique of acting can is.

Marlon Brando

Everyone knows how great actor Marlon Brando was. Be it Streetcar named Desire or be it, Godfather, he always mesmerized audiences with his mind-blowing performances.

For his success as an actor, he has openly credited Stella Adler technique.

“I no longer know how to read or to study or to think or to memorize without inviting Stella into my consciousness. Stella, you see, taught me how a play was built, how ideas were inserted as if they were bricks and windows and cornices and buttresses; how characters were inserted to allow light or shadow or a better view; how a playwright transmitted thoughts and ideas, and how actors were then empowered, required, to pick up those thoughts and ideas and transmit them to both their fellow players and to an audience.”

Warren Beatty

As we know, Warren Beatty is an American actor and filmmaker who has been nominated in the Academy Awards which includes four times the best actor, four times best picture, two times best director, three times original screenplay and one for adapted screenplay.

He studied acting under Stella Adler after he dropped out of college. He has often said that at Stella Adler Studio of Acting he learned a valuable lesson, that is to know what his characters are and what are their intentions.

Great advice for any young actor who is starting out!

Robert De Niro

You talkin’ to meYou talkin’ to me?”

We all actors have seen the movie, Taxi Driver (1976). Robert De Niro portrayed a complicated character with ease. It’s just the one example among the long list of incredible performances by Robert De Niro.

De Niro studied under both Strasberg and Stella Adler which became the foundation of this fantastic actor with a career stretching over 40 years.

Benicio Del Toro

Benicio Del Toro is one of the most respected actors when it comes to the craft of acting. He has several nominations in Academy Award and Bafta.

But the role of Javier Rodriguez in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic earned him the epitome of all awards, the Oscar.

In his several interviews, he has credited Stella Adler technique of acting as the main base of his work.

“what I learned the most from Stella is interpretation — really understanding the writer, what he’s trying to do and then telling the story as an actor, as well. Like, don’t rely on just the writer to tell the story; the actor tells the story. Whatever choice you make, you’re influencing the story.”

Christoph Waltz

Christoph Waltz has been like a secret weapon for director and filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino. Best of his work has come with Tarantino.

He won Best Supporting Actor in the Academy Award for his role as SS officer Hans Landa in the film Inglourious Basterds (2009 ) and his role as King Schultz in another Tarantino film, Django Unchained (2012).

These are what he has to say about Stella Adler.

 “And one of the most valuable things that she said to the class and so also to me — but it stuck to me for the past 35 years — is, ‘Don’t love yourself in art, love the art within you.’ And that’s something that never left me: that the play in front of you is more interesting than all the neurotic little maneuvers that you play within yourself.”

Other than these actors, there many more who studied this technique like among modern actors Henry Cavill, Gerard Butler, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Rodriguez, Salma Hayek, James Franco, and many others.

What are the primary tools that Stella Adler technique offer?

Many students of Stella Adler technique has admitted that this technique helps not only grow as an actor but enables you to develop as a human being.

Stella Adler was a strict coach, and she demanded that her actors must be disciplined first and then worry about learning the craft. Many actors, even today talk about she hated if they ever came late for the class.

So, her method has a lot of personal development elements in addition to acting elements.

Let’s see the key points that make up the Stella Adler technique:

Developing as Human Being

Stella Adler believed that acting becomes more fun when actors bring his or her point of view to the work. Stella Adler often said, “your talent is your choice.”

If you join any of the institutes of Stella Adler technique, they will teach you how to develop your ideas and how to respect your ideas. This Stella Adler technique will help them use acting as a means to convey their ideas.

Actors with ideas and mission are more resolved to learn and train their minds and spirits.

Imagination

Stella Adler technique is all about developing your imagination to create a fictional life in reality. It was the main reason Stella Adler parted away from Lee Strasberg.

She wanted actors to use their imagination only for their roles and not their tormenting past experiences.

In her class, Stella taught actors to find their motivation using imagination. If the scene is about being sad, create a believable imaginary circumstance that would induce the required sad emotion.

According to Stella, to develop imagination, an actor must learn to observe the world around him or her in fine details. Use those details, to create the imaginary world on stage.

If the actor succeeds in doing so, the audience will have a living character in front of them.

Acting Is Doing

It is another critical factor of the technique. According to Stella, it all about doing in the scene and not feeling. The feeling is just a by-product when an actor is in doing.

Stella’s approach to acting depends on more on connecting actions. The has always to find something to do in the scene.

Whenever you read a script or prepare for the scene, always finds what’s there for you to do. Find Actions.

Actions can be anything,  like to love, to beg, to go, etc. Even if your character is standing or sitting still, there is something to do like you may be waiting, thinking, etc. Any action you choose must have justification for it.

Sense Of Epic

Stella Adler used to say to her students that they must bring size to their actions and more significant meaning to the script.

And the way to do that was to make the bodies and voices stronger. With stronger voice and bodies actors can convey their actions more efficiently and effectively.

Especially for the stage, an actor must have a stronger instrument which their body and voice. On screen, even the smallest action done in an epic way which to do it full conviction the camera will capture it.

Beyond these primary factors, Stella believed in what she called it as, “cultivation of rich humanity.” What she meant by this is that actor have expsore of different cultures, societies, histories, and ideas.

Where can you learn Stella Adler technique of acting?

There is two main institute that teaches Stella Adler acting method:

  • Stella Adler Studio of Acting, New York
  • Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre, Los Angeles

Does Stella Adler technique work?

I believe choosing an acting method is a very personal choice. It’s not possible that if one method works for an actor, it should work for you. Most of the time, it’s a fusion of several acting techniques makes one perfect method for an actor.

If you see Stella Adler herself, studied different types of methods. After she learned and experienced different methods of acting, she created her own.

Many modern actors, hire different acting coaches with different approaches, to prepare for their parts. Like, Leonardo Dicaprio hired Larry Moss for his role in Aviator, even after several years of acting experience behind him.

So, if established actors are learning new technique everyday why not you follow the same philosophy learn new methods every day, use what works for you and dump that doesn’t.

Major books by Stella Adler

One of the most famous acting book, The Technique of Acting is by Stella Adler. Foreward is written by Marlon Brando.

In many chapters, she discusses her teaching experience with Marlon Brando. It is must read the book for any actor who wants to experience what Stella Adler technique of acting is all about.

Other than this book, The Art of Acting and Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov are other two books that are by Stella Adler.
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