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Lee Strasberg: The acting legacy lives on

November 21, 2009 |  8:00 am

Estelle parsons This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, the school founded in 1969 by the legendary acting guru, who died in 1982, and his wife, Anna Strasberg, who is still carrying the torch of Method training with her son David Lee Strasberg, the institute's chief executive and creative director.

For some, the Method is a relic, a throwback to a mid-20th century form of neurotic realism. Yet no one can deny the effect that Method actors have had on American theater, film and television. I can't say I became a theater critic because of such Strasberg-trained talents as Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley, Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Burstyn, and Robert De Niro, but the startling psychological reality they brought to their roles confirmed me in my admittedly odd choice of professions. Estelle Parsons, currently on tour in Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County," gives a pretty good indication of the way Strasberg encouraged his students not simply to express the feelings of their characters but to live through them, no matter how ferocious or painful.

For a feature in this Sunday's Arts & Books, I sat down with David Lee Strasberg to see whether the Method has evolved under this new generation of Strasberg leadership. I was particularly interested to hear how the Institute has addressed criticism of his father's pedagogy. And I was just as eager to find out how notable acting instructors from outside the institute assess the current place of the Method in 21st century acting training.

When it comes to the Method, everybody has a strong opinion, though respect clearly outweighed derision. Most experts are more familiar with Strasberg's long tenure as artistic director of the Actors Studio than they are with his still-flourishing school. Yet Los Angeles-based private instructor Sharon Chatten, who has taught at the institute and now operates out of the Sharon Chatten Studio, assures that the institute's faculty “know what they’re doing. It’s not just a name. They know the work.” 

-- Charles McNulty

Photo: Estelle Parsons. Credit: Joan Marcus / Center Theatre Group

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