The Lee Strasberg Notes, edited by Lola Cohen
The publication of The Lee Strasberg Notes came about because I was Lee’s student for the last five years of his life, as well as a teacher of his work at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute from 1986 to the present. I began to mine (and transcribe) the hundreds of hours of videotapes of Strasberg in action – teaching The Method. He was concerned that his and Stanislavsky’s work would be lost and not available to future generations of actors. As he often commented, theater performances are less permanently preserved than the other arts, such as painting, music, or cinema.
I realized that, because the transcriptions represent live application – not the polished explanations presented by Strasberg in a lecture or in his book – they have an appeal beyond use at the Institute. Passionate, articulate, and embodying an encyclopedic knowledge of theater, he strove to raise the standards of the craft for actors, and, with these direct transcriptions of his classes, actors throughout the world and in future generations can also experience and learn from actual demonstrations by him and of the work.
The Lee Strasberg Notes presents the clearest and most representative transcriptions of his commentary to actors and directors and fulfills my intent to present Lee Strasberg “live”, allowing readers to reach a new understanding of his work and even be able to imagine that he is speaking directly to them. Having observed students and recognizing their difficulties in absorbing and applying the work, I came to understand that the transcriptions of his classes would represent a valuable way to fulfill this mission.
Further, by drawing from the transcripts of Strasberg’s highly scholarly and fascinating commentary on the influential and great actors and directors, and his insights on theater, painting, film, and music, his genius is revealed.
Audio or film presentations of historic performances were shown by Strasberg in class, and what they might mean for the students as an example of what they should or shouldn’t attempt in their own work was discussed, transcribed, and included in the book. The acting students were usually totally unaware of who these early actors were, and he encouraged them to pursue researching them, as well as all other aspects of theater, the arts, music, philosophy, etc., to broaden and deepen their understanding of the craft of acting, the development of The Method, and how to use it at will.
My intent is to show Lee Strasberg teaching – guiding the exercises, the work on the self, and the work on character and scenes in service of the play or film – creating logical, truthful, and believable behavior, enabling actors to achieve those values and results in performance after performance.
In compiling and organizing the material in the book, I was guided by three principles:
1. To present material which reflects the natural divisions still observed in the Institute’s four-hour classes:
○ Two hours of student work on the self, and
○ Two hours of character and scene work
2. In hundreds of hours of taped classes, there were many versions of Strasberg making the same or similar points. Therefore, the editing necessitated the blending of the versions of his acting insights and instruction into a highly accurate, concise, and accessible statement of his ideas.
3. Capturing Strasberg’s personality as a teacher was critical to the book’s usability and effectiveness. Therefore, I retained his conversational and free associative style and the rapidity of points made in his commentary to his students. My goal was to maintain the dramatic quality, clarity, emotion, assuredness, and, as much as possible, the formidable flavor of the Lee Strasberg voice.
The Lee Strasberg Notes demonstrates how he questioned students, critiqued their work, and encouraged them to explore and go further than they believed themselves capable. His expectation of seriousness, discipline, and passion in the students was manifest in his energetic urgings, praise, and exhortations, in which he used humor, wit, and sometimes biting commentary.
I want readers of The Lee Strasberg Notes to let their imaginations stimulate the creative process – strengthening their love and commitment to their chosen profession.
After reading the book, my hope is that actors will have a more informed understanding of how continuing the study and application of Lee Strasberg’s Method will further their craft and careers.