Stella Adler

(1902 - 1992)

"The theatre - acting, creating, interpreting - means total involvement, the totality of heart, mind and spirit ... the total development of a human being into the most he can be and in as many directions as he can possibly take." - Stella Adler

The youngest daughter of Jacob P. Adler, a noted tragedian, and Sara Adler, a successful actress-manager, Stella Adler was born in New York, New York on February 10, 1901. According to most theatre historians, it was largely because of the efforts of the Adler's Company, a classical repertory troupe, that the Yiddish American theatre flourished in the early decades of the twentieth century.

In 1906, acompanied by her father at the age of four, Stella Adler made her stage debut in "Broken Hearts". In 1919, with training from New York University, and Maria Ouspenskaya and Richard Boleslavski of the Moscow Art Theater, Stella Adler made her professional debut in London as Naomi, in "Elisha Ben Avia". In 1931, she joined the Group Theatre founded by her future husband Harold Clurman, as well as Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford. Adler on high praise for her performances in "Success Story" by John Howard Lawson, and later in two seminal Clifford Odets plays, "Awake and Sing" and "Paradise Lost".

Adler stayed with the Group Theatre for a decade meanwhile protesting the lack of decent roles for women in theatre. She felt that the theater was geared for men and that the plays were written for men only. However, she credited the company for bringing the best out of her and for revitalizing her life in theater. Adler appeared in the movies "Love 0n Toast" (1938), "Shadow of the Thin Man" (1941), and "My Girl Tisa" (1948). Between films, she appeared in over a hundred stage productions internationally.

In 1949 she founded the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting in New York . She formulated an ambitious curriculum specifically designed to provide each student with a 'practical acting technique' that would not only help him to 'extend his range', but also enable him to 'develop his craft and independence' in the theatre. Believing that a teacher's job is to 'agitate' as well as to 'inspire', Stella Adler was a stern task mistress. She demanded from her students "maximum, not minimum' efforts and to get them she would encourage, wheedle, scold and occasionally explode.

"My ability to bring out the student's talent is somewhere deep inside me, and I must do whatever I need to pull it out." - Stella Adler

More often than not, she demonstrated the effect she wanted, moving seemingly effortlessly from Desdemona to Nina to Blanche DuBois, in a single scene-study class. According to Foster Hirsch's "A Method to Their Madness", her classroom performances are surely among the "most energetic" in New York. "For two hours, sharing personal antecdotes, theatrical reminiscences and bits of Philosophy...she never stopped radiating: the acting teacher as bravura actress." Some of her most famous students were Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Warren Beatty. She later became an adjunct professor of acting at the School of Drama at Yale University. She wrote a book, Stella Adler on Acting, which defined her theories of acting.

"The ultimate aim of the training is to create an actor who can be responsible for his artistic development and achievement." - Stella Adler

Adler died on December 21, 1992, of heart failure in her home in Los Angeles, California. For over ninety years her theories on acting have been the center of controversy and stimulation in developing new and talented performers. She will always be remembered for her contributions to the theater and the arts.

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