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October 1, 2001

Drama Professor's New Book Tells
Inside Story of Actors Studio

The Actors Studio, a secluded workshop in midtown Manhattan, has for decades influenced the worlds of stage and screen. Shelly Frome, unravels its mystery in his new book, The Actors Studio: A History, published by McFarland & Company Inc.

"Over the years, there has been much misinformation about the nature and mission of the Actors Studio," says Frome, an associate professor of dramatic arts at the Waterbury campus, who was a professional actor during the heyday of the Studio in the 1950s.

He decided to write the book after watching the Cable TV show Inside the Actors Studio. "It was upsetting and misleading. Many of the personalities who appeared on the show were never even associated with the Studio," Frome says. "The host worships the celebrity culture, which is total anathema to the original spirit of Elia Kazan's creation."

Through extensive research, interviews and first-hand experience, Frome embarked on what he calls a "spiritual odyssey to find out what really matters" in acting, film and theater.

The book traces the Actors Studio from its beginnings when Stanislavsky 's Moscow Art theater came to the U.S. in 1923, to the legendary days of the Group Theater; the achievements of Elia Kazan; Lee Strasberg and "Method" acting; and to the present. Chapters are devoted to the lives and careers of actors Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, while dozens of other actors like Julie Harris, Paul Newman, Anne Bancroft and Steve McQueen are discussed. The backdrops include the United Kingdom, Hollywood and Broadway.

William Parker, an emeritus professor of art at UConn, says the book is "an extraordinary contribution to the field" and "long overdue.

I consider it an absolutely classic book and I think it's going to stand in the history of theater as one of the most important of our time."

Frome says the Actors Studio is not a place where acting is taught. "It is a workshop, a refuge away from acting as a commodity, a place where you can grow. In its early earlier years, if you were one of the chosen few, you could drop in if you needed to and someone like Strasberg would watch you work." Actors had to audition, and it was an honor to be accepted. According to Frome, one year, 2,000 people auditioned and only two were accepted: Martin Landau and Steve McQueen. Frome, a fledgling actor during the 1950s, made it through the first of two auditions. Nowadays, the Studio is affiliated with a trade school/MFA Program, where, after spending $20,000 a year for three years, you get an official pass to the Actors Studio - hardly what Elia Kazan had in mind, Frome says.

According to Frome, there are three myths about the Actors Studio: That the Studio is a secret society that houses all the world's greatest actors; that it's a sanctuary for neurotic behavior that is threatening the stage and screen; and that it's a central station for the celebrities of the nation to "hang out." All are untrue, he says.

Reflecting on what he learned while writing the book, Frome says, "It doesn't matter whether you are a member of the Studio or not, who you are, or how you got there - it's what you're trying to do. What matters is those powerful moments that transport both the actor and audience. If that happens, we have attained communion."

Frome will have a book signing at the UConn Co-op on Friday, Nov. 16.

Sherry Fisher

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