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   from the issue of November 16, 2006

Grange studies link between Yiddish, American theater


William Grange, professor of theatre, spent October exploring the link between Yiddish and American theater.


Grange was awarded a Dorot Fellowship to conduct the research at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

The Dorot Foundation supports research in Jewish studies, Jewish authors and on relevant cultural topics requiring research in the Center's collections. Grange conducted research on the newly acquired Stella Adler Archive. Adler was a founding member of The Group Theater and Marlon Brando's principal acting teacher.

The youngest daughter of the eminent Yiddish tragedians, Sara and Jacob Adler, Adler performed throughout the United States, Europe, and South America, appearing in more than 100 plays in vaudeville and the Yiddish theater, according to her biography on the Stella Adler Theatre Studio Web site.

In 1934, she met and studied for five weeks with Konstantin Stanislavski, whose focus was on realism. Adler became the only American actor ever to study with him privately.

Stanislavski's system of teaching was the basis for Method acting.

Her study with Stanislavski gave Adler a new idea of what American theater could be, and she began to give acting classes.

Grange initially was looking for a connection between Yiddish and American theater. Specifically, he wanted to discover if the Method acting Brando was famous for was actually Yiddish theater.

Grange's research uncovered a connection between Adler and Erwin Piscator, the German director and inventor of epic theater. He was a dedicated Communist who wanted to use theater for political change.

Adler began to teach in the early 1940s at the Erwin Piscator Workshop at the New School for Social Research in New York.

"There are letters and memos to Stella from Piscator in which he advises her about teaching actors," Grange said.

The great irony in their connection, Grange said, is that Stella was devoted to realistic acting, while Piscator wanted acting that was more "epic" and oriented toward the political.

"While Stella always insisted that her teaching was to instruct students to be good socialists or at least leftists, Piscator (though a member of the German Communist Party) didn't really care what the actor's convictions were," Grange said.

Adler left the faculty at the New School in 1949 to establish her own place for young actors to study and perform. Among her students at The Stella Adler Theatre Studio were Brando, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Elaine Stritch, Harvey Keitel and Candice Bergen.

Grange plans to write a scholarly journal article on the research.



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