Thursday, May 26, 2011

Elia Kazan and The Actors Studio

In 1947, Elie Kazan founded the Actors Studio, a non-profit workshop, with actors Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford. It soon became famous for promoting "Method," a style of theater and acting involving "total immersion of actor into character," writes film author Ian Freer.According to Rapf, "the Studio rode the bandwagon of method fashionability, and Kazan was its clear star and attraction. Within a short time, as word spread, "everyone wanted to be at the Studio – not least because of the chance of being in a Kazan production in one medium or another.

Among its first students were Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Julie Harris, Eli Wallach, Karl Malden, Patricia Neal, Mildred Dunnock, James Whitmore, and Maureen Stapleton. In 1951, Lee Strasberg became its director, and it remained a non-profit enterprise, eventually considered "the nation's most prestigious acting school," according to film historian James Lipton.

Student James Dean, in a letter home to his parents, writes that Actors Studio was "the greatest school of the theater [and] the best thing that can happen to an actor". Playwright Tennessee Williams said of its actors: "They act from the inside out. They communicate emotions they really feel. They give you a sense of life." Contemporary directors like Sidney Lumet, a former student, have intentionally used actors such as Al Pacino, a former student skilled in "Method".

Kazan directed one of the Studio's brightest young talents, Marlon Brando, in the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. He cast him again in the film version in 1951, which made Brando a star and won 4 Oscars, and was nominated for 12.

Among the other Broadway plays he directed were "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "Sweet Bird of Youth", "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" and "Tea and Sympathy", This led some, such as theater critic Eric Bentley, to write that "the work of Elia Kazan means more to the American theater than that of any current writer." Film critic David Richard Jones adds that Kazan, during the 1940s and 1950s, was one of America's foremost Stanislavskians, and "influenced thousands of contemporaries" in the theatre, film, and the Actors Studio that he helped found.