Lee Strasberg: “The Actor Must Respond to Stimuli”
As the old saying goes, “Acting is reacting”
(arranged by AM Staff)
Lee Strasberg was one of the most influential acting teachers and acting theorists in history. Born Israel Lee Strasberg in Poland on November 17, 1901, Strasberg’s curiosity for the performing arts would lead him to develop his own method of acting.
He would go on to lead and establish famous acting institutions and influence some of the most successful actors of all time, including actors like James Dean, Al Pacino and Marilyn Monroe.
Strasberg once described the issue of stimuli in detail. In real life we respond to it naturally. In the performing arts, we must also respond to it.
“The human being who acts is the human being who lives. That is a terrifying circumstance.
Essentially, the actor acts a fiction, a dream; in life, the stimuli to which we respond are always real. The actor must constantly respond to stimuli that are imaginary. And yet this must happen not only just as it happens in life, but actually more fully and more expressively.
Although the actor can do things in life quite easily, when he has to do the same thing on the stage under fictitious conditions, he has difficulty because he is not equipped as a human being merely to playact at imitating life. He must somehow believe. He must somehow be able to convince himself of the rightness of what he is doing in order to do things fully on the stage.”
Acting is not merely about giving a prearranged performance, since such a performance is immunized from sudden stimuli. If, for example, your scene partner gives you a line in an unexpected way and you don’t respond in kind, you are not truly acting because you are not responding to the energy of your scene partner.
You must believe in the realness of what your scene partner just said, and react accordingly. Otherwise, you are just putting on an uninspired show; one that is divorced from what is actually going on in the scene.
As the old saying goes, “Acting is reacting”. An actor’s ability to respond to fictitious stimuli, as if it were very much real, and to do so “more fully and more expressively”, as Strasberg recommends, is at the heart of what we do as actors.
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