The Stella Adler Studio

I’m in New York because it is DePauw’s week-long fall break, and my daughter is living here, a first-year drama major attending the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she is studying in the Stella Adler Studio. I came up Friday night.  Yesterday (Saturday) was NYU Parent’s Day;  I’m in town until Thursday morning.

How my daughter came to be placed in the Adler Studio, I don’t know.  She auditioned for Tisch in Chicago, was accepted, got a scholarship, and was informed she was in the Adler Studio.  OK.  She wanted to go to school in New York, Tisch has a fantastic reputation, and it worked out financially.  But there was this lingering question in my mind:  was this studio (there are several she could could have been placed in) the best place for her?

Well, that’s what I call a wrong question, with no answer possible (or at least discoverable).  Better put: is this place really a good fit for her?  Will this training give her the tools she needs to fully express her considerable gifts?  We she be nurtured as a person as well as rigorously challenged as an actor?

Having attended yesterday afternoon’s Parent’s Day presentation at the Adler Studio, I can answer that question in the affirmative.

The New York Adler Studio is in one of those grimy-looking New York buildings with narrow staircases and hallways, no money wasted on interior design or recent paint.  You know, the kind of place where real artists work.  (I remember when I attended Juilliard in the late 1970s, in what was then still being referred to as the “new” building at Lincoln Center, it reminded me more of a bank building than what I thought a music conservatory should look like).

Artistic Director Tom Oppenheim gave an inspiring talk explaining the Adler Studio’s history and evolving philosophy.  I was struck by his emphasis on how growth as an artist (he probably only said “actor,” but if so I’m generalizing it on purpose) is inextricably linked with growth as a human being.

In classical music, we don’t talk about that much, and to our detriment, I think.  The 20th-century emphasis on the abstractness of music, and the philosophy of performers “realizing” a score (as Ravel put it), of being executants who should play exactly what is on the page and do nothing more, made it almost impermissible to discuss the “meaning” of a piece of music, or a musical event, without being laughed at.  I’ve only heard a very few people, at least in classical music circles, explicitly discuss how who one is as a person affects how one plays music.  Or how the music one plays (and how one plays and listens and responds) affects who one is as a person.  And yet this is at the core of art.

Tom also talked about the Adler Studio’s core value of social engagement and relevance.  As we think about what’s not working in classical music, isn’t that a big part of it?  I’m nuts for the writings of musicologist Christopher Small, who emphasizes the the inherently social nature of musical events.  I could go on and on, and will at some point here.  Read the Adler Studio philosophy yourself.  Genuinely stimulating, it has me looking anew at my own work in exploring ways to combine traditional classical approaches with the humanistic ways of approaching improvisational music making I’ve experienced in the the drum-circle work of Arthur Hull and David Darling and Music for People.

Several of the faculty talked about their work, with a group of second-year students serving as a demonstration group.  We saw examples of movement techniques, voice and speech work, character development, and the Adler technique.  All fascinating.  I want to go to acting school, too.

This presentation/demonstration, along with some lengthy discussions with my daughter about the work she’s doing, have me feeling great about the hands she’s in.  (And for added reassurance, it was nice to see a major film star, who is an extraordinary actor and not just a good-looking celebrity with a flash-in-the-pan career, sitting not too far from me, beaming throughout the presentation, clearly delighted that her or his child is in these hands as well.)

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