Do you agree with Stella Adler that talent is in choices?

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Valerie Adami

Director of Weist-Barron, New York City

Ah, semantics! Acting choices, career choices, life choices, strong choices, strange choices, no choices! Choices can be provided, taught, offered, worried about, and ignored. I've seen actors make such tunnel-vision choices they cannot respond to what's right in front of them. In general I like choices; they provide foundation and direction and help an actor enter the game. But choices are more technique than talent. Talent is something you're born with; it comes to you naturally. You're born with a beautiful voice, natural grace, a quick wit. As your personality develops, so do your talents. Traits that make us interesting individuals often make us interesting actors.

On the other hand, I find tools like choices particularly helpful for auditioning. When you don't have time to explore and develop, asking yourself a few questions (choices) can help cut to the chase. In the cold reading class I teach, I refer to Michael Shurtleff's great book Audition and use his 12 guideposts to illustrate choices. Defining relationship and conflict is universal, and it provides a common language between the actors and me. A truly gifted actor absorbs technique like a sponge and plays with it to suit him- or herself. A mediocre actor will slave away at technique like it's a magic bullet but at the end of the day still miss that moment of inspiration. I understand what Adler meant: Choices are important, a really great first step. After that comes commitment, concentration, passion, abandon, joy in your art, and happiness in your life. Of course, talent comes from your soul.

Jackie Bartone

Associate director of instruction, American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York City

Of course your talent is in your choices. But when you have said that, what have you said? Yes, it takes talent to make strong choices. You must be imaginative. You must be bold. You must be sensitive to the demands of the situation. So is your talent in your choices? Or is it in your imagination, your sensitivity, and your fearlessness? Talent is your own unique synthesis of all the elements that go into creating a character. When you bring the words of a script to life, the possibilities are abundant if not endless. What brings you to one interpretation out of the many is a measure of who you are as an actor and how well you have mastered your craft.

One's choices are a negotiation between who you are and the character in the script. You take on the given circumstances and absorb the specific elements of the role the playwright gives you. You study the character objectively. You make a rational evaluation. At the same time you make connections with the character at an emotional level. You filter the character's essence through your instrument. You open yourself up to become this person (the character) in this body (you). When we no longer see choices but are simply engaged with this character, we know what it means to talk of talent. Talent is showing the director something he might have suspected but didn't fully appreciate until you crystallized his understanding of the role. Talent is living the part.

Bruce Katzman

Teacher at Stella Adler, offers private Chekhov workshops and coaching, Los Angeles

Yes, your choice is everything. And everything is in your choice. We are in the business of communication. As Stanislavsky said in My Life in Art, our job is to "create the life of the human spirit but also to express it in a beautiful, artistic way." Not only must we inhabit the life of an imaginary person; we must ensure, to whatever degree that is possible, the audience shares in our understanding. If a performance is dulled by an inexpressive voice or by sloppy and generic gesture, we are not serving our fellow actors or the viewers.

There are countless ways to sit in a chair, drink from a glass, open a door, enter a room. Who decides that but the actor? The actor's choice springs from the given circumstances of the play; the social situation; the "Who am I?"; the character's relationships to other characters, places, and things; his objective; and his actions. Character is revealed by what we do, and those "doing" choices reflect the actor's understandings filtered through his imagination — the other place, Adler declared, where an actor's talent could be found. I often ask my students, "What is the difference between the craft of acting and the art of acting?" The answer lies in the clarity and economy of the performance. Art is an expression of an intelligence at work. A skilled and seasoned actor brings conscious choice to his work. His art and his talent lie in his choice.

Toni Moss-Trenton

Private coach, Los Angeles

Although Adler was responsible for inspiring and training many great actors and teachers of acting, I do not believe this quote was the pillar and emphasis upon which she based her technique for acting. In her book The Art of Acting, she mentions the word choice on only 10 pages, whereas the use of creative imagination, historical and social research, style, and freedom of the body are mentioned on many more pages. I myself do not believe that one aspect of an actor is enough to build a talent on. Choice is important, yes, but only with many, many other techniques used by the actor. In today's world of technology; information overload; stress; and immediate results demanded in film, TV, and theatre, a variety of technique is required to survive in the actor's workplace.

Perhaps the best quote I found from Adler was taken from Page 65 of The Art of Acting: "The actor cannot afford to look only to his own life for all his material, nor pull strictly from his own experience to find his acting choices and feelings." I really lived that quote myself while I was working on the Scottish play this year. Shakespeare has done your choices for you, and you must find a way to rise to that level. It took everything I knew and more, and nothing has demanded more or scared me as much.

— Simi Horwitz