The Lee Strasberg Notes Excerpts

The Lee Strasberg Notes
Edited by Lola Cohen

Copyrighted material. Copyright held by Lola Cohen and The Estate of Lee Strasberg.
Routledge – Taylor Francis, 2010

Part 1

Editor’s note

This section records Lee Strasberg’s own words as he oversaw the exercises for the Actor’s Unit, the first two hours of the traditional four-hour session. The exercises include relaxation, sense memory, emotional memory, the private moment, the animal exercise, song and dance, and voice exercises. In the Actor’s Unit, Lee emphasizes relaxation and concentration as the backbone of the work. He talks to the students about eliminating tension, the role of habits that confine expression, and how to relax in the chair. To help actors take control, he describes the use of sound in eliminating emotional tension, and discusses the “abstract or additional movement,” which tests the actor’s ability to follow their own commands and break habits. As will be clear from the transcriptions, Lee’s ability to focus on and communicate with individuals, discern and analyze their acting problems, and use of the exercises illustrate the depth of his understanding of how to develop craft in acting. Also clear from the classes is one of Lee’s deepest beliefs, “that actors must make a commitment to train themselves and continue to work on their craft throughout their careers”; the importance of taking classes and continuing to work with a teacher as a guide is a point he stressed to all of his students.

Lee Strasberg on training

The human being has an extraordinary capacity and can be trained. While the other arts use different materials for expression like words, notes, paint, and train the voice, the speech, and the body, the actor himself is the instrument of expression which calls for special care like a rare Stradivarius. In our work, we develop the actor’s concentration and power of observation. We train the actor’s imagination, senses and emotions, helping the actor to expand the ability to conceive more than the ordinary. Our training nurtures creativity, which is the highest material that can be used for art. Talent alone isn’t enough. What makes for greatness in the actor? Greatness needs that extra effort, which is commitment. When someone with a nice voice who’s been singing a while suddenly becomes great, what’s happened? The voice hasn’t changed that much. It’s that the singer commits fully and completely. Otherwise there’s a half-hold on the voice, like a batter that swings, but not in a committed way, resulting in the ball not going where he wants. When Babe Ruth swung, he pointed to where he wanted the ball to go, and it went to that spot. He had that sense of commitment and courage, of not being afraid to be wrong. The Babe had played enough to know that sometime or another he’ll connect. Actors also need a strong will to connect. That can only be done with continuity, commitment, and courage…

(TLSN Excerpts will be periodically updated. The full text is contained in The Lee Strasberg Notes available in bookstores and on-line)