The Actors Studio was founded in 1947
in New York City, by Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis. Lee Strasberg
became Artistic Director in 1951, and remained so until his death in 1982. In
New York, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn are Co-Presidents. In West
Hollywood Mark Rydell is the Artistic Director and Martin Landau and Mark Rydell
are the Executive Directors.
The Actors Studio is
a theatre workshop for professional actors, directors and writers, chartered as
a non-profit, educational, tax deductible corporation. (The term The Actors Studio
is a registered trademark.) No fees are charged and donations are voluntary. The
Studio is supported by Benefits and a Board of Directors. The Studio in West Hollywood
is the West Coast branch of the Studio in New York. Neither is a school for beginners.
Actors are admitted on the basis of talent.
The above founders created
a place for professional actors where they could continue their development and
to experiment with new forms of theatre.
In 1967, the west coast
branch of The Actors Studio was born. The following year the Studio acquired the
use of the William S. Hart property by an arrangement with L.A.'s Recreation &
Parks Commission. The Studio undertook a refurbishing program at an initial cost
of $20,000. The garage was converted into an 84 seat theatre workshop. The main
house became rehearsal space, office, library and caretaker quarters. An additional
$10,000 was spent on heating, air conditioning and general maintenance in 1984.
Ralph Alswang, the theatrical designer, supervised the alterations. On December
4, 1989 the William S. Hart Park became the property of the City of West Hollywood.
In 1997 there were additional refurbishment costs to the Studio of $64,000 and
we are currently a 70 seat theatre. These latest refurbishments renewed and continued
the unique and productive relationship we have with the City of West Hollywood.
Currently we have over
1,000 members on both coasts. The Studio is culturally diverse and maintains a
policy of non-discrimination. Any professional actor over 18 can apply for an
audition and theatre professionals have come from all over the world as guests.
The impact of The Actors Studio has been acknowledged world wide.
In the beginning there was Konstantin
Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre. (For more information about Stanislavski,
refer to the books found on this
page). The work of Stanislavski and his company brought new meaning to the
term "life on the stage". It had been developed from years of discovery and experimentation
by Stanislavski, who had dedicated himself to a lifelong search aimed at formulating
an approach to realistic acting that could, in essence, deliver the mystery of
"creative inspiration" to those not born with artistic genius.
Pushkin, Russia's original literary hero and the father of
the native realist tradition, wrote that the goal of the artist was to supply
truthful feelings under given circumstances, which Stanislavski adopted as his
lifelong artistic motto.
"No one knows what will move his soul, and open the treasure house of his creative
gifts," Stanislavski was to write in My Life In Art
. "The creativeness
of an actor must come from within."
How to enter into and to stimulate that inner self became the theme of Stanislavski's
How does an actor act? In simplest terms, that was the question that haunted Stanislavski.
Actors before Stanislavski had of course thought about how they work but it was
the rare actor, then as now, who could be articulate about it: the actor's art,
after all, is in speaking other people's words.
Admiring the work of the great actors he had seen and eager to learn their secrets,
the young Stanislavski discovered that for the most part the great actors carried
their secrets to their graves.
"If the ability to receive the creative mood in its full measure is given to the
genuis by nature," Stanislavski wondered, "then perhaps ordinary people may reach
a like state after a great deal of hard work with themselves -- not in its full
measure, but at least in part."
How can the actor learn to inspire himself? What can he do to impel himself toward
that necessary yet maddeningly elusive creative mood? These were the simple, awesome
riddles Stanislavski dedicated his life to exploring. Where and how to "seek those
roads into the secret sources of inspiration must serve as the fundamental life
problem of every true actor." --- A Method To Their Madness.
Stanislavski's work literally stunned the theatre world in America.
When the Moscow Art Theatre visited America, two of its
company members, Maria Ouspenskaya and Richard Boleslavski (Acting: The First Six Lessons) defected, choosing to remain in America, and
began teaching at the American Laboratory Theatre. It was there that a young Lee
Strasberg immersed himself in Stanislavski's "System" as taught by Boleslavski.
Eventually, driven by a burning desire to weave this revolutionary approach to
the actors' art intrinsically into the fabric of the American Theatre Experience,
Lee Strasberg, Harold
Clurman (The Fervent Years) and Cheryl Crawford founded the Group Theatre (1931-1941),
still considered the best of all of American theatre companies. (For an invaluable
history of the Group Theatre, read Robert
Lewis' book Slings And Arrows), and Clurman's book, "The Fervent Years" linked above.
The Group Theatre was the first American company fully trained to perform as an
ensemble. Among members invited to join this remarkable company were Robert Lewis
and Elia Kazan (joined in 1932, becoming a leading actor).
The Group Theatre finally dissolved in 1941, for reasons ranging from finances
to "artistic differences". It wasn't until six years later that the original founders
of the Actors Studio decided it was time to "fan the spark" before the fire died
Fifty young professional actors were invited to become members. Robert Lewis conducted
meetings for the advanced members, and Elia Kazan held sessions for beginners.
By the end of the first year, Lewis resigned. During 1948 and 1949 several teachers
kept the classes going, among them Sanford
Meisner, Daniel Mann and Elia Kazan.
It is not surprising, then, that the longstanding association between Strasberg,
Crawford, Kazan and Lewis, would lead to Strasberg's invitation to join at the
Actors Studio in 1949. Before long, he became the sole teacher of actors there.
By 1951 Strasberg was appointed Artistic Director of the Actors Studio, a position
he retained until his death in 1982.