THE GROUP THEATRE AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA (JPW)

The members of the Group Theatre pose for a photo.

Before Konstantin Stanislavski had revolutionized acting as the world knew it at the Moscow Art Theatre, acting had always been a very presentational thing. The idea of an actor giving a truthful performance was something completely unheard of. When the Moscow Art Theatre began its practices, the world of acting and theatre changed. Realism and truthfulness were becoming the most important part of performing. Stanislavski’s work would eventually find its way to American theatre by way of the Group Theatre. This was a project founded by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasburg, and Cheryl Crawford in 1931. After having studied with Stanislavski for a time, these students wanted to bring acting technique to America, and present new, edgy, meaningful theatre. The Group changed theatre in America, and inspired some of the most well-known theatre practitioners of the American Golden Age of Theatre.

The name of the Group came from the idea that theatre was an ensemble process. They wanted to abandon the gap between stars and the little people. The company itself was made of many different practitioners. There were actors, directors, writers, and producers who made up the group. Some notable names include Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets, Lee Strasburg, Harold Clurman, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner. The mission of these artists was to teach Stanislavski’s acting technique to American actors, and even push beyond it. This acting technique would later turn into what we know today as “the Method” which was taught by the Actor’s Studio after the Group Theatre disbanded in 1941.

During the Groups ten years of producing work, they did some of the most pivotal plays in America today. Its most successful production was the 1937 Broadway hit Golden Boy by Clifford Odets, which starred Luther Adler and Frances Farmer, two renowned actors of the time. Other notable plays they produced include: Men in White, Waiting for Lefty, Paradise Lost, Rocket to the Moon, among many others. Odets became the playwright most commonly associated with the Group, as his plays were performed most and garnered the most success.

The group was finally led to its own demise when infighting began between the company members about different ideals. The legacy they had left to the American theatre had been invaluable, however. They had changed how acting, the ensemble, and theatre companies worked in America. Members of the group later went on to continue teaching new techniques of acting, many of which are still used today in actor training programs.

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