The LEE STRASBERG Theatre & Film Institute, one of the most prestigious acting schools for theater and film students in the world, has sponsored Cinema Without Borders Awards at a plethora of different film festivals and events. The most recent of these occasions is the Cinema Without Borders and Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute’s “Young Acting Talent Award”, given to Golsa Nesari. The Iranian-born actress, also a recent “Queen of the Universe” winner in addition to her Top 10 finish at the Miss Universe pageant, received a certificate for an upcoming Method Acting Intensive provided by The Lee Strasberg Theater & Film Institute in West Hollywood, valued at $2000.
DAVID LEE STRASBERG has been the Creative Director and CEO of The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, with campuses on both coasts, since 1999. As CEO, he manages and supervises the administrative staff and faculty, interviews and approves new hires, puts new programs and policies into place, and develops curriculum. He also travels the country holding seminars to promote Method Acting. International workshops are on the horizon. As Creative Director, he executive produces all plays and short films created under the auspices of the Institute, all the while mentoring students on their careers. Son of famed acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, David grew up in NY with both the Institute and the Actors Studio as sites for his extracurricular activities. He sat in on many of his father’s classes and, as a child actor, performed in shows at both locations. David graduated from Brown University with a dual major in International Relations and American History. He received his MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
He worked in Bill Clinton’s administration under Erskine Bowles, who later went on to become the White House Chief of Staff. Following that, he worked at Mayor Riordan’s office on his Economic Development team as well as his Policy and Budget team, overseeing the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Info & Tech Agency, among others. David currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife Lindsey (an entertainment attorney), their 3 children and 2 dogs.
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about what is going on these days in the Institute, as the last time we interviewed you was about three years ago. Anything new – any new classes?
David Lee Strasberg: This is a very exciting time. We have a ton of productions going on, putting on plays and doing short films. Both the teenagers and the adults are doing a production of “Rent” for the spring. One of our actors, Jesse Martin, actually originated one of those roles on Broadway. We’re also doing “Lend Me A Tenor” which is a different kind of show for us: it’s a very funny, physical comedy – a farce – which I think is a real challenge for actors to bring their kind of truth. We’ve also started a couple of partnerships with some of the local film schools – USC and the Los Angeles Film School. We’ve begun exchanging talent, so they’re looking into getting our actors into their films as well as using them in their class projects and their labs where they’re developing new work, and we’re looking to do similar things with other local film schools. So there’s a lot going on right now.
BT: As far as actors who are going for acting in cinema, there is such a long history with the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. What kind of classes will they find that suit them as future actors and actresses?
DLS: I think film actors get a bad rap because it takes a tremendous amount of skill, talent, and technique to work out of sequence, to work in the frame that you need to work in, doing multiple takes when you think you got it right and yet the camera is not reading it right . . . there is so much going on in film that it’s its own art. And we have a variety of Acting for TV and Film classes with teachers who are here to up your game. When you start with us, the first goal is to be yourself on camera – that’s not an easy thing to do. It sounds simple but it’s a challenge for a lot of actors who, as soon as they see the camera, think they need to change into something else.
The next step is to develop character and not just be natural or unaffected. Eventually you must take on characteristics and characterizations for the film or production. This approach yields an entire curriculum of training for an actor who wants to perform in film and TV.
BT: For directors who are curious to learn hos to deal with actors, could it be beneficial for them to attend your classes?
DLS: I think directors have gotten a lot out of our classes. We have a long history of directors training with us and then going on to do fantastic work because a huge part of what they are envisioning is being delivered through the actor. You wouldn’t be a violinist and know nothing about the violin. Directors who come to us not only see the difficulties involved with acting, but they also learn ways to speak to an actor, ways to encourage the kinds of behaviors they want to see. Directors who work with us learn to speak to an actor in their language and get the kind of result that they need.
BT: One of the awards that was given at the Palm Springs International Film Festival was sponsored by you for a Method Acting Intensive. Please tell us about the Method Acting Intensive course.
DLS: The Method Acting Intensive is a great way for someone to get to know us, and also to get to know themselves. Whether for an actor or a director, it’s a way to open up a new possibility. You want to go from being good to being great and you need every edge you can get. Coming here is opening a new possibility for what you can be. For some people it leads to longer training, and for others, they come just for that quick hit – two weeks or three weeks, to open up new avenues for them, some side they hadn’t seen. The intensives are a really exciting time! You’re exhausted by the end but you’ve grown and changed and you’re ready to create something new.
BT: You have students from all over the world including all the other states of this country, but especially in L.A. families are very curious to see the chances for their teenagers to become an actor. Tell us about the teenage courses that you have.
DLS: I get so excited when I see our teens work. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have such talented teens come out of the program and do really well. The aim of the program is the same skill that we teach the adults but in an age-appropriate way. We make some adjustments but we trust them to grow and be expressive because, as teenagers, they are feeling a lot and they have a lot to say. We want to give them thought-provoking material like “Rent” which is challenging musically, in terms of choreography and definitely in terms of acting. Our goal is for teenagers to up their expression using techniques that my father taught, techniques that make sense given the experience of a teenager. It’s one of the exciting things happening here – there’s so much talent happening in that program, it’s amazing to watch!
BT: What are the latest success stories from the school?
DLS: There are always success stories but right now – they might not be brand new faces but they’ve exploded recently. We have Claire Danes who was in “Homeland” and is so spectacular. She started as a teen but I think she’s never been at the level she’s at now, both in terms of recognition and the maturity of her work. Another one is Christoph Waltz. Watching him in “Django Unchained” is just amazing. Of course Tarantino is doing things that only he can do, but you couldn’t make Django without him. He’s a great example of the kind of work we do.
BT: I think you are taking what your great father brought to this country but you are also adding new touches for our time. How have you improved the classes over time?
DLS: We have this tremendous body of work and I have this legacy that is humbling sometimes. It is a constant challenge to maintain the level of brilliance that my father contributed and we’re doing it on a larger scale so we’re training more students than ever before but we’re also trying to make the training more and more personal and practical in terms of simulating a production experience. For example, relationships with USC are new and give the actor an opportunity to go out there and use their craft. So we don’t just teach technique and artistry: that artistry gets to be put to use in the Industry, doing the thing that you’re trained to do. I think that’s really important. I also think every generation has a voice so you have to keep updating your material and how you speak to your students, even if the underlying mechanism and technique are intact. We don’t have to improve my father’s technique: he left us a treasure trove of wonderful exercises and an approach to working with an actor, but how we apply these techniques always has to evolve. Regardless of the age of the teacher, you will see that our communication is on the level of current, modern, hip actors.