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Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

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Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » April 23rd, 2015, 11:08 pm

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Sheana Ochoa, author of STELLA: Mother of Modern Acting has arrived at The Silver Screen Oasis to visit us this weekend.

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Ochoa's website entitled "Stella Adler, A Life In Art," describes Ochoa's journey compiling fascinating episodes from the life of Adler, an actress, film producer, director, and teacher who inspired writers like Arthur Miller, and actors like Marlon Brando, Benicio del Toro, Mark Ruffalo, Shelley Winters, Salma Hayek, and Robert De Niro.

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Author Sheayna Ochoa and husband Jordan Elgrably at the Golden Globe Awards in 2013

With extensive access to Adler's personal archives, interviews with former students, friends, and family members, biographer Ochoa delves into Adler's childhood, her experience with the Yiddish theater, and Adler's experiences with Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets, and formidable and controlling Lee Strasberg.

Adler is the only American acting instructor to have actually studied with Constantin Stanislavski, whose theories created the foundation of modern Method acting. Her experiences with blacklisting in the McCarthy era, her formation of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York, and her extrapollation of Stanislavski's approach to teaching acting as an art led her to help students to "inhabit their roles through empathy, imagination, and a deep sociologial understanding of a character's motivation."

Ochoa's bubbly, energetic personality belies her own personal struggle with Fibromyalgia. Acccording to Ochoa's website article, she states that fibromyalgia is "a malapropism for a still controversial illness that has no known cause or cure, but can be as disabling as Lupus and MS. Since I’ve found ways of managing it in my life, my next book will focus on helping others with FM. I guess you could say, I’m a fan of the underdog." Like Stella Adler, Ochoa fights for and sympathizes with those who struggle with daily existence.

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(Photo from Inspiring Quotes By Women.com)

Unbeknownst to most fans of Adler was her dedication to help refugees, as she "covertly secured passage for 700 displaced Jews during and after World War II. The FBI and the Department of Army kept records of her every move during the 1940s and 1950s, according to an article in Lilith magazine." Ochoa states that Adler's FBI file added to the explanation of Adler's complexity of character and dedication to help those she considered worthy of her attention as an instructor or savior, as well as aiding her voluminous research.

Adler's decade-long association with colleague and adversary Lee Strasberg and her singular approach to an unorthodox lifestyle inhabit the first biography of Stella Adler, the "mother of modern acting." Strasberg was at times "aloof" towards Adler, as "they had respect for each other, but there was a rift," states Ochoa.

In Hollywood, Adler starred in the movies Love on Toast in 1937, Shadow of the Thin Man in 1941, and My Girl Tisa in 1948, and was an associate producer at MGM.

Ochoa's personal vision of who Stella Adler became illuminates how Adler lifted the art of acting so that the actor becomes "co-creator as the artist uses his or her imagination." Adler's "template for the theater" in some ways was forged by her flamboyance, but also her dedication to the art of acting as a profession. Some of her students include Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Elaine Stritch, Mario Van Peebles, Harvey Keitel, and Candice Bergen.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, nominated for a Best Performance By An Actor in a Supporting Role in 2015 for Foxcatcher, wrote the heartfelt introduction to Ochoa's book.

Please join us this weekend to visit with Sheana Ochoa!

Links:

Stella! Mother of Modern Acting: http://www.amazon.com/Stella-Mother-Mod ... eana+ochoa

Sheana Ochoa's author website: http://sheanaochoa.com

Sheana Ochoa's website, Stella Adler, A LIfe in Art: https://stellaadleralifeinart.wordpress.com

TCM Morlocks Interview: http://moviemorlocks.com/2014/05/21/ste ... rn-acting/

Tara Hanks' review of Stella! Mother of Modern Acting: http://forbookssake.net/2014/06/02/stel ... cation=ufi

Stella Adler Studio of Acting: http://www.stellaadler.com/about/history/

PBS American Masters Series Synopsis, 2000: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters ... adler/526/

Original review of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing in 1935, featuring Stella Adler: http://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/19/1935/thi ... e-and-sing
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » April 23rd, 2015, 11:13 pm

Please welcome author Sheana Ochoa!

We are so happy you have joined us here at The Silver Screen Oasis from your home in the Los Angeles area. The life of Stella Adler is a fascinating one, and I am curious about why you became so passionate about her life and her career. Can you share your initial interests in her career and how you began your journey into her life?
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby sandykaypax » April 24th, 2015, 11:14 am

Welcome, Ms. Ochoa! As an actor myself, and as someone who works in youth theatre, I often hear many misconceptions about what Method acting is. Could you illuminate what Stella Adler's beliefs were in terms of how an actor approaches playing a role? And how did this come to differ with Strasberg's beliefs? For example, did she put any stock in things like sense memory?

thanks!

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby kingrat » April 24th, 2015, 12:00 pm

Welcome to SSO! I look forward to reading your book.

1. If I remember correctly from his autobiography, Elia Kazan was not the biggest fan of Stella Adler, which may have been more the natural conflict of strong personalities rather than a reflection on her work. What did you find out about the relationship of these two formidable talents?

2. Could you comment a little on Stella Adler's career as an actress? Did she enjoy teaching more than performing?

3. We all probably want to hear some Marlon Brando stories!

Thanks so much for chatting with us.

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sheana Ochoa » April 24th, 2015, 12:19 pm

For Christy: The pleasure is mine and thank you for hosting me. I became interested in Stella through her father, Jacob Adler, who unsurprisingly reminded me of my own father though I didn't know it when I fell in love with him. Tall, robust, charismatic, Adler - as everyone referred to him - could charm the panties off a nun with a toothache. So there's that rather low brow, gypsy quality that came from growing up as a gadabout in Odessa, but in American he built a great following. He was the King of the Yiddish Theatre. I was drawn to his memoir and then one day realized, "Oh my god, Stella doesn't have a biography!" I had her father and mother's story; so now it was time to discover her's. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. It took two years just for her FBI file to arrive after ordering it under the Freedom of Information Act. Needless to say, biographies on the whole take 5 to 20 years to complete. But once I started, Stella took over. So it was she who chose me, I think.

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sheana Ochoa » April 24th, 2015, 12:23 pm

I have a treat for the SSO. I created this homage to Stella (although this is an edited down version) for my book tour when Stella! released. This is the first time I'm sharing it online:
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sheana Ochoa » April 24th, 2015, 12:37 pm

Sandy, your question about method acting is the crux of why it became so important to write this book. Even lay people know the name Lee Strasberg, but outside of the theater, people don't recognize Stella's name. As you know, "the method" became a label journalists gave to the type of acting coming out of the Actors Studio during the 50s & 60s. Strasberg branded it, and as you know, with any good branding, whether it be Apple or Starbucks, the message sticks. And that message became tied to an understanding of "method acting" being based on an actor using sense memory, or in layman's terms, the memory of his or her own personal past experience (what color were the walls, how did the room smell, how did the fabric touching the skin feel, what sounds were in the background?) to elicit the emotion needed for the character's performance. Well, as you can see in the homage to Stella I just posted, Stella found sense memory limiting. How could you play a murderer or a woman who has lost her child if you haven't experienced it? The answer is to use your imagination -- that beautiful left hemisphere storytelling gift that all artists employ. That's not to say Stella didn't teach sense memory. If you could call upon your life experience, use it. Just know, the character is a creation of the playwright/screenwriter with the purpose of conveying universal truths. One must respect that. One must understand the social, political, geographic, economic and family background of his or her character. My book explores this in much greater detail and I could go on, but I hope I've answered your question?

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » April 24th, 2015, 12:58 pm

Thank you so much for the informative responses, Sheana, and the video.
(I'm returning home from work, and will watch it as soon as I can once I arrive back at the "hacienda.")

In your book, you discuss the importance of the Yiddish Theatre and how it shaped much of the stagework and the ideology of the playwrights of that time. How did Stella synthesize much of her personal experience into what became her theory of acting?


Did her early successes add to her later flamboyance and what some might call her "arrogance" concerning her craft?

Once again, I hope you know how much we appreciate your visit her! :-)
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » April 24th, 2015, 3:06 pm

Sheana, your video is so evocative of Stella's spirit and determination to impart all of her comprehension of what it takes to reveal the truth of a character on stage.

What I enjoy so much about your biography of Stella! is that you have included so much of her personal history intertwined with the history of the Yiddish theater, Stella's interpretation of Stanislavski's method, and how she fought so fiercely for her vision of what she perceived and extrapolated from her own personal journey as a player and an instructor.

Here's a lovely photo I found of Stella Adler....
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At the beginning of your video, Stella walks into a room full of men in some sort of committee meeting, and they all acknowledge her presence with some sort of awe, recognition, or genuflection, and it seems a metaphor for her entrances in her own life. (I'm sorry that I don't recognize the film.) She was an electric entity full of charm and mystery. Can you share some of your perception of her affect on her peers?
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby OScott » April 24th, 2015, 4:57 pm

So glad that you are paying SSO a visit Ms. Ochoa. I have been researching the career of Stella's sister-in-law Sylvia Sidney (wife of Luther Adler) for an upcoming biography. I was hoping you might have come across information of how the two got along. Sylvia also provided Stella a nephew, Jody Adler. After Sylvia left Hollywood (1937) she said she had to re-learn how to act for the stage. The Adler influence was a great opportunity for her! Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks! Scott

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sheana Ochoa » April 24th, 2015, 6:47 pm

I love that you found that picture of Stella. She looks so sweet, not the indomitable matriarch she would become. If I recall it was taken in the early 30s though she doesn't appear that young. I'm attaching my favorite photo of her from the Yiddish Theater from 1920-21 when she would have been nineteen.
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beautiful.jpg (7.68 KiB) Viewed 13982 times

Looking back, I wish I'd titled the book "Matriarch of Modern Acting." I even got dressed down from reviewers that "Mother" short changed Stella by assigning her a role to which she wasn't, in real life, attuned. We so often give men the "Father of X" status, I wanted to change it up. But I digress.

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » April 24th, 2015, 6:56 pm

That photo is lovely! I'm so glad you posted it. Yes, it does capture her before she became such a formidable force.
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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sheana Ochoa » April 24th, 2015, 7:11 pm

For David:
Kazan's autobiography was a great source for the sections during the Group Theater days in the 30s. Kazan came to the Group as an apprentice, knowing next to nothing about acting. Stella had been doing it all her life, and unlike most of the other members of the Group, she was a veteran.

With ambitions to direct, Kazan attached himself to Harold Clurman who was a great influence on him. But Kazan, like Odets, couldn't reconcile how such a talented and knowledgeable man could be cowed by Stella, who really did abuse her poor admirer and later husband.

Clurman struggled to keep Stella happy which meant her life with the Group had to be worthwhile to her. This created problems. Kazan didn't want Clurman's allegiance to Stella to interfere with the work. Later, when they worked together on "Streetcar," and other productions with Brando, Kazan preferred Stella to not be involved. She wasn't oblivious to Kazan's animosity, but it was hardly something to bother her pretty head over. Of course, after he complied with HUAC,it was another story. Stella was a harsh critic. She, too, was called up. It's a pretty funny episode in the book. Scary, to be treated as a traitor, as you can imagine, but funny.

As for Stella's acting career versus her teaching career: they were one in the same. The work was the work. She "performed" and prepared as much for her classes as she did for any role she played. Teaching was the one area in which you might say Stella was humbled. She was a servant to the work and it was her job to distill it as truthfully as possible because she believed in the transformative power of the actor after growing up with the Yiddish Theater and witnessing how the theater was as much a part of the immigrants' survival as eating.

Marlon Brando stories? Yes, there's those in the book. I became much more of a Brando fan after researching him. He has become in my imagination simultaneously an enigma and a kindred spirit. A born maverick, I can't think of anyone besides Stella Adler that he would dress up for. :D

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Sheana Ochoa » April 24th, 2015, 8:18 pm

Hi Scott,
Lovely to see a fellow biographer here at the SSO! I don't know what your experience has been, but from the day I signed my publishing contract for Stella! I had nine months to get all permissions (quotes and photos), learn all about marketing (social media, book trailers, book reviewers, etc), and really give the book a developmental edit -- not just a copy edit. Nine months to do what what takes 18 months.

To vent further, I was assigned a copy editor and had to make edits on a PDF with boxes over the text so I couldn't read what I was editing! There are so many typos in there I can't even think about it. I still don't know why they wanted the manuscript within nine months, or why I went along with it. Having said all this, when you asked me about Sylvia Sidney, I saw in a flash that I had spelled her name Sydney and no one, not my beta readers, husband, or even publisher's copy editor found the mistake. C'est la vie.

Stella was delighted to have Luther marry Sylvia. They did it it under the radar at the Caxton Hall Register Office when the Group was performing "Golden Boy" in London. After the war, Stella became a member of the Bergson Group to help bring awareness of the holocaust to America. She was instrumental in helping put together a pageant called "We Will Never Die," which Sylvia participated in. I didn't come across any letters per se, or research documenting their personal relationship. It's great you're working on Sidney's bio. There is a letter Clurman wrote to Stella in 1942 that I can share with you that mentions Sylvia. You can contact me at sheana[email protected] if you like.
Best,
Sheana

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Re: Sheana Ochoa, Author of STELLA! Mother of Modern Acting

Postby Masha » April 24th, 2015, 10:09 pm

I thank you very much for giving us your time and your insights.

Your description of Jacob Adler made me smile. I have known such men, and Odesa produces the very best. :)

I hope that you do not think my question silly or only an esoteric footnote:

How many languages did Stella Adler speak?

I ask because I wonder if there was a language barrier when Stella Adler studied with Konstantin Stanislavsky.

I know that he was bilingual because his grandmother was French. It seems odd to me that he would speak either English or Yiddish well. I believe that English was not considered a major language in the arts at that time, and Yiddish was not socially acceptable to people of his family's class. I believe also that plays could not be produced in Yiddish at that time.

Do you have any information on how they communicated?
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