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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

John Barrymore, Maurice Schwartz, Stella Adler - Tradition


There's an anecdote that when John Barrymore was asked where he learned to act, he said all he had to do was go down to Second Avenue and attend the plays at the Yiddish Art Theater.  Maurice Schwartz was the director and leading actor of that theater in the 1930s when Barrymore and Lombard starred in Twentieth Century.  When I saw the film, I recognized the style before I heard the anecdote.  Barrymore strongly reminded me of Schwartz when I performed with Schwartz 20 years later in the English version of the classic Yoshe Kalb.  Schwartz knew nothing (maybe he knew, but he didn't practice it) of Stanislavsky or the Group Theatre.  His direction was very mechanical, down to telling me to count, literally, "1, 2, 3, drop the handkerchief, then say the next line".  I remember telling Uta that her teaching was by then so ingrained, that I was able to perform as she taught me and still give Schwartz the result he needed.  Schwartz had an incredibly good dramatic instinct.  Although his approach was very different from mine, our communication in performance was harmonious.  

Stella Adler joined Schwartz's company at the Yiddish Art Theater when she left her father's (Jacob Adler) acting company.

Twentieth Century is a comedy, Tevye is a drama, and Stella's teaching style reflected her passion for the "art of acting."  In this clip she was responding to a scene from The Dresser performed in class by Milton Justice and Bill Lithgow.  Milton told me, "It was Stella's last class and we decided to do a scene with a theatre theme, thinking Stella would talk about a life in the theatre. She certainly did!"

Aside from gesture, note the style that a particular tradition of performance influences.   

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