Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Stella Adler on Method Acting

A big influence on the modern Hollywood acting style comes from Stella Adler. She had done away with the earlier big gestures used in silent film acting, such as an actor placing both hands on their heart to indicate sorrow. She bridged the gap between early twentieth-century Russian theatre and what was becoming popular in film at the time. Adler drew from the imagination rather than personal experience. She had a name in American theatre, appeared in a handful of films and has taught some of the greatest actors of all time. She was known for her harsh, but fair analysis of student’s skills. Some included Marlon Brando and James Dean. Even after her passing, the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Angelina Jolie have studied at her acting schools.

Stella Adler was born on the 10th of February, 1901. Her father, Jacob P. Adler, was a famous actor on the Yiddish Theatre circuit. She was only four-years-old when he had her star in one of his productions, Broken Hearts. Adler had no formal acting training, but instead learnt from her father and by watching others. By her late-teens, she had been in over one hundred plays either in the Yiddish Theatre or as part of a vaudeville act. Adler’s performances took her all over the United States, Europe and South America.

In 1931, she was invited to join the Group Theatre in New York City. Adler accepted the offer but never felt fully welcome. Many agree this is where she achieved her best work as Sarah Grassman in Success Story, Adah Menken in Gold Eagle Guy, Bessie Berger in Awake and Sing and Clara in Paradise Lost. The Group Theatre was formed by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg; themselves experimental actors focusing on cutting edge techniques and deeply influenced by Russian theorist Konstantin Stanislavski. Adler and Strasberg frequently clashed over the interpretation of Stanislavski’s work.

Having a break, Adler headed to Europe in 1934. On a chance encounter in Paris, she met Stanislavski and was not only able to speak with him, but was instructed and taught by him for the next five weeks. Stanislavski was born in Moscow in 1863, was an actor himself and brought new psychological and emotional aspects to the craft. His theories were big in the United States in the 1930s. Adler was the first and only American to study directly under him. Returning home with new insight, Adler and Strasberg still couldn’t find a common ground so she decided to leave the Group Theatre.

In 1937, Adler gave Hollywood a shot. She appeared in three films: Love on Toast (1937), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and My Girl Tisa (1948). Adler spent six years as an associate producer at MGM. She taught acting at the New School for Social Research around this time. Adler also directed commercial theatre in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Stella Adler School of Acting first opened its doors in New York in 1949. She could finally teach acting her own way. Where Lee Strasberg highlighted an actor’s need to draw upon personal experience to envision a character, Adler focused and honed the imagination. She was against the idea of using past traumas as a way to achieve an emotion, especially a negative one. In her own words: “drawing on emotions I experienced – for example, when my mother died – to create a role is sick and schizophrenic, I don’t want to do that.” Adler instead focused on spiritual realism, emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and disciplined practise. Adler received critical acclaim for her work with Marlon Brando and his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). He was nominated for Best Actor at the 1952 Academy Awards.

Today, Adler’s school is known as the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. It is a not-for-profit organisation; an LA branch opened in 1984. Both run weekly acting classes. Some actors to come through Adler’s schools include Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Dustin Hoffman, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi and Scarlett Johansson.

Adler officially retired from acting in 1961. In the later part of the decade, Adler juggled her time between her acting school and teaching at Yale University’s School of Drama. She was head of drama at New York University in the 1980s. Adler released a book in 1988, The Technique of Acting. The book is still widely taught and referenced. She continued to teach until her death from a heart attack on December 21, 1992.

By: Matthew J. Healy


8 Acting Techniques (and the Stars Who Swear by Them) (https://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/resources/8-acting-techniques-and-stars-who-swear-them/)
Encyclopaedia Britannica - Stella Adler (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stella-Adler)
PBS - American Masters (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/stella-adler-about-stella-adler/526/)
Stella Adler Biography (https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/stella-adler-5150.php)
Stella Adler - IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0012245/bio)
Stella Adler Los Angeles (http://www.stellaadler.la/)

Stella Adler Studio of Acting (http://www.stellaadler.com/)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Book Review: Play BIG – Lessons in being LIMITLESS from the first woman to coach in the NFL

Author: Dr Jen Welter with Stephanie Krikorian
Published by: Seal Press
Reviewer: The Sydney Feminists 

Reviewer comment:  After I volunteered to do this book review, I discovered it was about triumph in American Football! I was reluctant. Not my genre! How wrong I was. Anyone who reads Play BIG will understand how ironic my pre-conceived judgement was. This story is riddled with pre-judgement, prejudice and historic notions of what women can’t do.  

(The review copy was provided courtesy of the publisher).

Play BIG is the trail blazing story of Jen Welter, a sports mad kid who despite being told she couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t make it in sports ....Did!

But Play BIG is far more; it’s a story of an inner burning passion that left Welter open to derision, due to her seemingly disparate interests. Despite outward opposition, she did the hard yards and tapped into her unrelenting drive to follow her dreams. Even when she wasn’t sure what her goals were she followed her instincts and achieved lofty heights beyond anything she ever imagined.

From childhood dreams and youthful mischief to the harsh reality of adult brutality and insecurity - you discover as much about yourself as you do her. The story, at times, retrospectively analyses the experiences and people in her youth that pre-judged her self-assuredness, and how simple misplaced observations can affect an adolescent with attitude. 

Play BIG is a story of Hustle, that extraordinary trait developed by necessity. When you’re poor, and considered unworthy because you are female, you don’t have access to the necessary resources needed to become a Champion in the NFL. So you survive on sweat equity! Jen and her team’s Hustle is real and their ongoing struggle for survival shines a bright light on the not so dark corner of gender bias and pay gap disparity. 

For this woman’s NFL team who broke barriers and won recognition amid staunch prejudice, sometimes the hustle didn’t extend far enough. The struggle was all too real. Stripped back to basics this Elite level team of women got the job of winning games done. Made up of people of many different races and backgrounds, they defied outdated stereotypes. They embraced their differences and weaknesses and made them strengths, forging Champions and lifelong friendships, thereby showcasing that sport thrives on diversity despite gender inequity in funding and acceptance. 
When Welter became the first female to play in men’s professional indoor football, she knew from the core of her spirit it was right.

But throughout her story, her success is met with both praise and criticism, and she disarms her critics with humour. Humour is part of her charm, charm that would win her the respect of the Giants of American Football on their own turf. “When in doubt laugh it out!”.

With a childlike, youthful passion she’s willing to step into chaos and let the people around her be their best by being themselves. She had her feet kicked out from beneath her, was as tough as nails and managed to garner respect within the upper echelons of American Grid Iron. Authenticity became one of her most valuable assets in earning the respect she would need. 

Play BIG shows the absurdity of life and proves perspective is everything. 

Football is a contact sport and as the first female to ever play men’s football she stepped up to take the hits and earn her place on the team. 

As a mentor to juniors she describes an instance where boys were cheating to beat a girl player. Scared a girl might beat them they’d find a way to remove her from the game. She was right. In her first play Jen was blasted by two huge guys at once. She popped right up only to be blasted again, earning the respect she needed (and deserved) and the adulation of the crowd. 

(One of the guys delivering the blows admitted years later he’d questioned his own strength and effectiveness because Welter at 130lbs got up after he’d slammed her with his best.).

Play BIG challenges how men view women and how women view themselves and raises questions about our own preconceived notions of gender and ability.  This story is also peppered with the human plight of inner conflict, sabotage, narcissistic burn, domestic violence and detours from destiny. 

The book gives the reader a glimpse of a Champion as she struggles with indecision, homelessness and distorted perceptions of how she should be in comparison to others. Welter empowers herself when she decides she won’t let her perceived physical inadequacies disadvantage her. 

Play BIG not only weaves through the barriers of resistance and human strength but also its fragility. It has surprising lessons in humility and empathy, as well as harsh truths about labels and being limited by gross assumptions. It gives insight into the doubts confident people have about their abilities yet still finding the fortitude to push through. 

Jen Welter exemplifies through amazing accomplishments to never give up on your dreams, even if you’re ready to break. Don’t give up ... resuscitate.

Despite great success and dominance in US female sporting achievements Jen continues to campaign against the lack of opportunity for women to dedicate solely to their chosen sport as a career, and highlights to the persistent  inequality in gender pay and the lack of recognition that prevails. 
Her success has taken her to the White House, she is a National Ambassador for girls in sport and has campaigned with a slew of celebrities and notable luminaries. 

These football achievements against often formidable conditions are astonishing and inspiring but for Jen Welter would they be enough? Of course not ... As the Play BIG story unfolds it reveals nothing will get in her way as she earns her PhD and takes time out to be a real life Super Hero. 

Play BIG… read it! 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Intersex Solidarity Day – November 8th

The "I" in LGBTQI+ can be a bit underrepresented, so here are a few quick facts:
Intersex people are born with physical or biological sex characteristics (such as sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, hormonal patterns and or chromosomal patterns) that are more diverse than stereotypical male female bodies.
  • Approximately 1.7% of the population is intersex.
  • Being intersex is as common as having red hair.
  • November 8th is Intersex Solidarity Day (link to the allies page: https://oii.org.au/allies/)

March 2017 marked the release of the Darlington Statement by Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex organisations and independent advocates
This statement sets out the calls and priorities for intersex people in our countries. It calls for an end to legal sex/gender classification systems for one thing, and it asks for legislative protection from discrimination, among other things. 
Another call to action from the Darlington Statement is an immediate stop of deferrable medical interventions, including surgical and hormonal interventions, that alter the sex characteristics of infants and children without personal consent.

This might be surprising, but there are still "normalising" or "correcting" interventions performed on children and adolescents with intersex variations.
In Australia. In 2017.
These unnecessary medical practises are happening to make bodies look more stereotypically female or male. Opposition to this practise is becoming stronger, citing evidence of harm, their non-urgent cosmetic character, and a lack of evidence of supporting claims of necessity or timing. 

As the United Nations states
"In countries around the world, intersex infants, children and adolescents are subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries, hormonal treatments and other procedures in an attempt to forcibly change their appearance to be in line with societal expectations about female and male bodies. When, as is frequently the case, these procedures are performed without the full, free and informed consent of the person concerned, they amount to violations of fundamental human rights."

These surgeries can result in permanent infertility, decreased sexual function, and the dependence on otherwise unneeded hormonal replacement therapy among other things.

Consider the story of Kimberly Mascott Zieselman
, executive director for interACT, who recounts her unnecessary surgical intervention and the toll it's taken on her life.
"Doctors and parents are doing irreversible harm solely due to discomfort with difference."
Kimberly was born with XY chromosomes and internal testes instead of ovaries and a uterus, and her body developed to appear typically female. 

Doctors removed the testes when Kimberly was 15, and she was not consulted - her parents consented for her. This decision has resulted in a lifetime of hormone replacement therapy. 
Doctors also wanted to "created a more typically sized vagina" via invasive surgery, but her parents refused.

Or Katharine B. Dalke
 who had the same Complete Androgen Insensitivy Syndrome as Kimberly (meaning her body didn't respond to male hormones and so developed an externally typical female body). This was discovered during surgery when she was 6.
Her physicians decided that her intersex status be kept secret from her as "intersex people who find out might commit suicide"
"Even when I entered medical school 10 years ago, we were taught, without robust scientific evidence, that an enlarged clitoris is "abnormal" and that otherwise healthy undescended testes in a girl are always "precancerous." Textbooks told me that "ambiguous genitalia" in a newborn baby constituted a "social emergency"—one that required immediate intervention."

The vast majority of intersex infants are healthy - they don't medical treatment. So why are doctors still interfering? There seems to be no evidence that "normalising" is necessary.
Is it just personal, uninformed, presumption?
"Parents of children with intersex traits often face pressure to agree to such surgeries or treatments on their children. They are rarely informed about alternatives or about the potential negative consequences of the procedures, which are routinely performed despite a lack of medical indication, necessity or urgency. The rationale for these is frequently based on social prejudice, stigma associated with intersex bodies and administrative requirements to assign sex at the moment of birth registration"
Performing unnecessary surgery on healthy infants because of social prejudice seems like something that shouldn't happen in a modern Australia. But it is, and this goes to show what some intersex people have to stand against in a heteronormative society.
Like this rather disturbing article. It details a Dept of Health and Human Services Victoria document referring to medical intervention of intersex infants, children and adolescents because of, and as late as 2013, "risk of social or cultural disadvantage to the child, for example, reduced opportunities for marriage or intimate relationships..."
This reference to marriage has since been removed, what OII.org.au states might be "a sense of embarrassment at the human rights violations that OII Australia has documented and reported in submissions"- but consider the idea that not even five years ago surgeries on infants were possibly occurring so they would be more marriageable in later life? It's absurd.
When we live in a society that places so much emphasis on gender roles, and people don't fit into those categories, they are seen as abnormal. But it's our society's assumption that there are two absolute genders fuelling this problem.
If we learn from a young age that biological sex includes female, male and intersex variations, then these sorts of gender binary assumptions will be defeated with the knowledge that difference does not need to be "normalised". 

Awareness will help treat assumption. 

By: Tee Linden

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