The Stella Adler
Acting Technique

stella adler

Stella Adler believed that an actor's talent lies with his imagination. This theater and film actress turned acting teacher trained with Stanislavsky and studied the method, but didn't believe that an actor needs to relive past experiences to connect with the play.

Through years of teaching, she developed an acting method that helps actors be truthful on stage by fully believing in the circumstances of the play.

1) What is the Stella Adler acting method?


Here are the main points of this approach to acting:

  • Acting is Doing
    The actor must always do something on stage. He looks for actions in the script (for example, "to teach, to confess, to beg", etc.) and finds the human conflict in them. He must have a justification for each action (know exactly why he is performing each action).
  • Developing the imagination
    An actor develops his imagination by first observing the world around him in very specific details. He can then create specific images in his mind in order to surround himself with things that are true to him on stage. If he succeeds, the audience will see through his eyes.
  • Training the mind
    Actors must have a real understanding of the play in order to reveal its secrets to the audience. They must study the text and its ideas but also research the social situations of the play.
  • Size
    Actors need strong bodies and voices for the stage so they can bring size to their actions. Adler encouraged actors never to be small. Her students learned to always bring a bigger meaning to the text. Below is a short video where she discusses this "sense of epic" the actor must have.


Stella Adler felt that a lot of actors confused being true and natural with being ordinary and boring. Her approach to acting definitely helps actors break away from "boring".

2) What can you expect?

  • A lot of rehearsing
    Adler expected her students to prepare for every single activity and action they were going to have on stage. If you study her acting techniques, you will spend a lot of time creating specific images for the circumstances of the play. For example, if you are working on the 'Where am I?' in a scene, you will work out in your mind every minor detail of what surrounds you.
  • A lot of thinking
    Stella Adler believed that an actor's most important tool is his mind. She also believed that an actor must completely understand the text of the play to be able to communicate it onstage without faking. So expect to do a lot of research, script analysis and paraphrasing of the play to make it your own.

3) Sample Stella Adler Acting Exercises

  • Imagination Exercise
    Pick an object and describe it. The goal is to get very specific (shades of colors, texture, etc.) but to communicate what the object looks like in a direct simple way that speaks to your audience. The more you do this exercise, the more objects will speak to you and the quicker your imagination will kick in onstage. Then take the exercise to the next level by letting your imagination run free (Adler calls that "traveling"). For example, a green couch can remind you of emerald earrings a woman wore at a party you went to which reminds you of the music that was playing and so on and so on.
  • Paraphrasing
    Pick a book and write down one idea from the book in your own words, then present it onstage to others. Try to experience the idea so you can give it a live dimension on stage. To do that, you first need to understand the idea, then respond to it and make it your own until you feel a real need to communicate it.
  • Inner justification
    Randomly pick a simple line from a play you don't know and bring it to life by imagining in details the reason why you're saying that line. Try to make a strong choice, something that stirs you and creates conflict. This exercise helps actors experience their lines instead of just saying them.

4) Is the Adler technique for you?

Studying the Adler technique is a great way to study acting if you're a very creative person who feels limited by the more structured acting techniques. Here are a few other things to consider.

  • Stella Adler challenged her students constantly. Getting the most out of her acting method requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
  • Adler's acting style is very relevant if you want to be a theater actor because she helped her students build the high level of energy required for the stage. It's all about being bigger then life, so if you're the kind of actor who's great at being natural and being yourself but not so good at "taking the stage", study Stella Adler.
  • This is a good acting method to pick if you find yourself often "faking" or "indicating" as an actor. Ms. Adler helped her students focus on creating true images for themselves so they wouldn't have "to lie" on stage. This method also helps with stage fright.

5) Famous Actors who studied the Stella Adler Acting Technique

Marlon Brando, Warren Beaty, Robert de Niro, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel, Benicio Del Toro, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, Patrick Stewart, Ed Norton, Sean Astin, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Matthew Modine...

...to name a few.

The must-have Stella Adler Acting book



The Art of Acting by Stella Adler

An inspiring book by a great lady of the theatre. Compiled from transcripts of Adler's notes and classes, this book has 22 acting lessons that cover everything from beginner exercises to how to dress the part and create characters. This book will speak to all the actors who chose this profession to feel "more alive".

Ready for the next step?

In order to help you find the right acting school and understand the business of acting, I wrote an e-book called Become an Actor : A Guidebook for Beginning Actors. I encourage you to click here to find out how this book can help you start your acting career.

If you're interested in the Stella Adler technique, you can also look at some of our listings of acting schools that teach it, like The Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York and the Stella Adler Los Angeles Conservatory For Actors in Hollywood.

Looking for a different acting style?
Check out these unique acting training techniques taught in some acting schools.



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