Strasberg Legacy . An Essay by Giovanni Morassutti
The history and peculiarities of the discussed ”Method” and the ”Organic Creative Process”
Method acting is a range of training and rehearsal techniques that seek to encourage sincere and emotionally expressive performances, as formulated by several different theatre practitioners including Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner, while the Organic Creative Process is a conscious, intuitive process that goes beyond it.
Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski was a seminal Russian theatre practitioner who discovered the 'system', a rehearsal technique and acting process to portray emotions on stage by putting the actor in the place of the character within the given circumstances of the play.
His 'system' inspired several American theatre practitioners including Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, and Cherry Crawford who formed in 1931 a theater collective, The Group Theatre, based in New York City. They were originators of what would become the "Realistic school of acting ". Members of the company, including actors, directors, playwrights, and producers were gathering also at different summer locations to rehearse and train within a natural environment.
In the late 40ies Robert Lewis, Cheryl Crawford, and Elia Kazan founded The Actors Studio, an organization for professional theatre practitioners including actors, directors, and dramatists set in a disbanded Presbyterian Church located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. In 1951 Lee Strasberg became the artistic director until he died in the early eighties. The Method developed by Lee Strasberg takes inspiration from the Stanislavsky system adapting it to the world of the United States of America of the last century. In Method Acting, the actor prepares his “tool” starting from physical relaxation, then moving on to mental concentration. The next step is related to sense memory, which serves to help the actor enter imaginary realities that can trigger behavior suitable for the given circumstances. There is a long list of exercises that allow the actor to exercise and express his imagination through his behavior. The most famous and controversial technique of the Method is called emotional memory. It is the memory of specific sensations associated with a particular emotional state, which can be relieved in the present according to the scene and the character faced. Lee Strasberg developed this exercise to guarantee the actor the ability to express emotion at a given moment. It is a powerful technique but at risk of psychological abuse. Lee Strasberg had a significant role in the film and theater industry, being a spiritual guide to many famous actors, including Marylin Monroe and Montgomery Clift. He was able to keep everybody honest through his acting sessions at the Actors Studio helping actors to develop their skills in a private environment regardless of how famous and rich they were. With Strasberg, it was always a matter of doing your work and developing your craft as an actor. This aspect of his spirit has created a respect for the acting process which is probably his most important contribution to the theatre and film world even more important than the discovery of the Method itself. In terms of the acting process was indeed Stanislavsky the real originator of the artistic movement but the Moscow art theater was not able to maintain the core values of this process due to the political situation in the communist world at that time. It was the institutionalization of the Actors studio in America which made it continuous.
Paula Strasberg, Lee Strasberg's wife, was Marilyn Monroe's acting coach and confidante. Lee and Paula had two sons, John and Susan. Susan was nominated for a Tony Award at the age of 18 for playing the title role in The Diary of Anne Frank and nominated for best actress in Kapò directed by Gillo Pontecorvo in 1960. Later in her career, she also wrote the book "Marilyn and Me": Sisters, Rivals, Friends in which she describes her relationship with Marilyn providing may be the most intimate portrait of probably the most famous star of all times. John, the younger child of the Strasberg's, was also close to the star. In 1962 Marylin Monroe gave him her Thunderbird Ford's original, first-generation T-Bird roadster, as a birthday present. Growing up in an artistic world, John Strasberg followed the footsteps of his father and he became a master teacher of acting as well as a director developing his particular perspective on the work and the acting profession. He was also trained by his father at the Actors Studio, along with Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and many other talented actors learning the powerful effects of the method. Despite the genius of Lee Strasberg, talent and inspiration in the method remain an unknown, almost mystical world. The method tends to be linear, almost like a 19th century mechanistic way of thinking in its search for a cause that produces the desired effect.
The Organic Creative Process discovered by John is an intuitive, conscious, modern, holistic work that reinterprets and further develops the fundamental principles of the American school of realistic acting. Talent and inspiration are states demystified by John Strasberg: the actor does not think as an actor, that is, which technique to use or which exercise to do but tries to identify himself from a purely human point of view, through his spontaneity and his creative freedom. There is also a therapeutic component in the Organic Creative Process: with the exploration of the various characters, the actor develops the knowledge of himself, even through suffering. According to John Strasberg nowadays due to more television and media, there are much more actors who work professionally but don't know about the process and think that they don't need to learn, therefore there are lots of amateurs working professionally which makes it harder for the serious ones who work hard and struggle to create and express something to reach the public. He once said to me that the art form comes and goes but it is surprising how such important information like the difference between naturalistic acting and realistic acting has gone so fast. As a student of his, I have also discovered that real acting has an essence of life, a vibration of life experience which in naturalism is missing. He said that the fact that there are lots of acting schools including universities where there is a program designed for a group of students instead of focusing on each actor's needs, turned an artistic process into an academic one. The Strasberg family has been an example of sincere dedication to the acting craft and the actors who came out of this movement commonly associated with the Method made the history of modern acting.