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.
- Acting is Doing
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.
- A lot of rehearsing
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.
- Imagination Exercise
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”.
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.
Return from Stella Adler Technique to Acting School Stop Home
3 replies on “The Stella Adler Acting Technique”
The main points to be remembered when using this method is that the actor must always be doing something even if it is as little as looking up at the sky or having a glass of tea. They just have to do something and not just stand there after they are done with there lines. Something to expect when using this method is to commit and do this all the time. I tried this method by reading lines from a play but I was pretending to read a book at the same time. I think this method works because it is as easy as pretending to read a book while talking.
My Uncle Kurt Grayson was an actor in the 60’s through the 90’s, I lived with him in Beverly Hills age 15 to age 18, he tok me on commercial auditions and on set for many of the Steven J Cannell production TV series which Kurt was almost in every series they produced. Kurt took me to his drama classes which was taught by Stella Adler, I had no clue who she was at age 15 but I realise now I was fortunate to have seen her personally many times in class and finally at a celebration for her in LA and someone had one of her films we watched as the party went on! My Uncles best friend actor Reid Smith also attended her classes.
My Uncle worked out at Vince’s gym in Studio city, I did too and later learned this gym is world famous for bodybuilders and actors! We got Stetson hats at a shop called Nudies Rodeo taylor of Hollywood, later i learned Nudie was famous too! I saw Milton Berle daily walking at Coldwater cyn park and Phil Silvers at the Vons on Coldwater cyn , My Uncle knew many actors and actresses I met many. He had a AC Cobra 427 then and today they are woth up to a million dollars and at age 16 I drove one by myself often probably the only person to say that at age 16 they drove a real AC Cobra 427 around as a kid.