Recently, I’ve been accused of getting Strasberg and Stanislavski confused with each other. That puts me in good company because that’s often a volley of shot aimed and fired at Mamet in his condemnation of Strasberg. I don’t believe that I confuse the two; I have a strong grasp of the main elements of Stanislavski’s “system” and Lee Strasberg’s “Method”, and where they differ from each other. My criticism of Strasberg is not the same as my criticism of Stanislavski, and when I refer to the Method, I’m talking about what Strasberg created from his understanding of Stanislavski, and not what Stanislavski endeavoured to create over the many years of experimentation in his life.
However, if it is true that Strasberg and Stanislavski are often confused with each other, my research has indicated to me one reason why people may indeed confuse them.
Some of the blame, I’m afraid lies with Lee Strasberg and a lecture that he gave on acting before his death. I’d like to reproduce some of that lecture here to assist the debate, or add fuel to the fire.
Here are two extracts from Strasberg’s speech:
“It’s not an American version, it is the truest form of what Stanislavski tried to achieve and never achieved, as he himself admits”
“In my book it will be clear that I believe that we are the true representatives of what Stanislavski endeavoured to do all of his life.”
In the same lecture, he mentions Stanislavski’s last book ‘An Actor Prepares.’ If Strasberg’s understanding of Stanislavski derives entirely from this book, he is basing his work on early Stanislavski and unfortunately missing out on the later work that was published. Of course, we all should know that ‘An Actor Prepares’ was only the first part of the trio of books, the ABC of Acting, that Stanislavski produced and that were published after his death. The latest one was published much, much later in the Sixties in America, meaning that Strasberg had already taken Stanislavski’s early work and extended it (in exclusion from Stanislavski’s later work on method of physical actions).
Strasberg visited Moscow while Stanislavski was still alive. He chose not to visit Stanislavski. Why would someone who felt that he held the true mantle of the Master, avoid meeting his truest source of inspiration?
These are questions, alas we have no answers.