Written by Bill Connington
In response to student demand, the Alexander Technique is now included in the movement curriculum of the Actors Studio Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Program at the New School for Social Research in New York.
The Actors Studio, an internationally famous members-only acting society founded in 1949, has had only 800 lifetime members including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Al Pacino, Shelley Winters, Dennis Hopper, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Harvey Keitel. The MFA program was established in 1994 under the auspices of the New School for Social Research in New York to train actors, directors, and playwrights to use the deeply personal acting approach labeled by outsiders as “method acting.”
When the Actors Studio MFA Program began in the Fall of 1994, the movement program was provided by the Alvin Ailey School of Dance. Students, however, requested the addition of the Alexander Technique. That was accomplished in January 1995. Students can now choose between various dance classes and the Alexander Technique to fulfill classes in the movement program.
Instructor Bill Connington, co-author of “The Alexander Technique” and former President and Chairman of the American Center for the Alexander Technique, designed an Alexander program to fit the specific needs of the Actors Studio MFA program.
The Alexander Technique will be available to actors for the three years of their training. Classes will meet twice a week for a fifteen-week semester. Work will focus on body image, identification of postural and movement habits, increased body awareness, and changing habits through inhibition and direction. Work will also focus on breathing and on the maintenance of bodily freedom during sound production.
The distinctive approach of the Actors Studio is based on the ideas of turn-of-the-century Russian actor/director/theorist Constantin Stanislavski. He sought to discover the difference between the acting of his time that seemed false – a series of cliched gestures, movements, and indicated emotions – and the performances by great artists that seemed real and transcendent. He interviewed accomplished actors about how they worked and distilled the information in his books “An Actor Prepares” and “Building a Character.”
In the 1930’s, Stanislavski’s ideas were embraced by theater director and visionary Harold Clurman when he formed the Group Theatre, an American company active on Broadway in the 1930’s. Out of that company of actors, directors and playwrights came well-known acting teachers Stella Adler, Bobby Lewis, and Lee Strasberg. Later, Strasberg branched off in 1949 to become the leading figure of the Actors Studio.
Until now, the work at the Actors Studio has been confined to peer review sessions in which members engaged in emotional exercises, scenes or monologues, while a monitor coordinated feedback from other members who observed performances.
Since these sessions were not open to outsiders, in 1993, a Master of Fine Arts Program was created under the direction of then Actors Studio president, Paul Newman, James Lipton, (now Dean of the School), and a committee that included Estelle Parsons and Lee Grant.