Introductory Lesson


The influence of the theories and practices of Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski has had an indelible influence on American film acting for the last fifty years.


In the late 19th century, Stanislavski fused his frustration with conventional stage acting craft and his interest in the developing science of psychology. Based on his experience and observation, most actors’ movements and gestures were rendered on stage devoid of any “inner life” and hence, the performances seemed unrealistic and false. The new plays being written by playwrights Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg, and Henrik Ibsen demanded a new type of actor … an actor able to convey subtleties and truths within and of characters never before explored on stage. A reversal from working from “the outside … in” to working from “the inside … out” was the major tenet Stanislavski’s new system. The results were remarkable and a new era was born in the theater,


Stanislavski’s work with the influential Moscow Art Theater eventually made its way to the American stage in the first quarter of the 20th century. American film acting in its silent and early talkie era featured primarily the broad and “technical” approach of conventional pre-Stanislavski school of acting. It was not until members of The Group Theater in America during the 1930s began writing, directing, performing plays and eventually teaching their own students in their own interpretations of the Stanislavski system did American film acting reach its full potential. These interpretations have been collectively dubbed The Method.


The four most influential actor/teachers from the Group Theater (for the purposes of this course) were Stella Adler, Elia Kazan, Sanford Meisner, and Lee Strasberg. A majority of the actors seen in the films we will view this semester were trained by at least one of these people, and in some cases, by two or three. All had different approaches to interpreting Stanislavski’s system, so much so, that contention and rivalry existed among of few of these people.


After the demise of the Group Theater in the 1940s, all four of these people went on to form or lead acting schools where many of the most notable actors of our time studied their craft. These include The Actors Studio, The Neighborhood Playhouse, the Stella Adler Conservatory, and Lee Strasberg Institute. 


It is important to note another leading proponent of the Stanislavski system – Uta Hagen. Hagen was trained in America by members of the Moscow Art Theater who fled to America to escape Stalinist Russia. Her published works on acting technique are considered THE preeminent texts for acting students. Until her death in 2004, Hagen was the chairman of HB Studios in New York City, an acting school she co-founded with her late husband Herbert Berghof in the 1950s. The alumni list reads like a virtual Who’s Who of noted film and stage actors.




Konstantin Stanislavski biographical info



A history of The Group Theater



The Method



Sanford Meisner biographical info



Meisner Technique Overview



A List of Meisner alumni (scroll through graphic at top of page)



Elia Kazan biographical info



More info on Elia Kazan



Lee Strasberg biographical info



Stella Adler biographical information



A List of Adler alumni



Stella Adler Technique Overview



Uta Hagen’s Technique Overview



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs