Stella Adler Acting Technique Explained (What, Why & How)


The Stella Adler Technique is an acting approach that emphasizes imagination and emotional recall when creating a character.

In this article, you can read about the Stella Adler Technique and where to learn it.

What Is The Stella Adler Technique?

The Stella Adler Technique teaches actors to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” It is one of the major acting methods taught in acting schools and university theater programs worldwide.

The technique emphasizes that actors should not draw on their personal experiences to connect with their characters or their characters’ emotions. Instead, they should use their imagination to understand their characters’ circumstances and react accordingly.

Adler’s technique is grounded in the concept that the actor’s talent lies in his or her ability to understand and express the human condition rather than just personal experiences.

It encourages actors to study the text thoroughly, understand the given circumstances, and make choices to fulfill the play’s needs.

Adler insisted on an intellectual understanding of the character’s motivations, which, combined with the actor’s imagination, should lead to a truthful performance.

The Stella Adler technique is a discipline that involves several different elements:

  1. Imagination: Adler placed a great deal of emphasis on the use of imagination in acting. She believed that an actor’s ability to imagine themselves in different circumstances is critical to their ability to portray a character convincingly.
  2. Script Interpretation & Analysis: Actors are taught to analyze the script in depth to understand their characters’ motivations, objectives, and circumstances. This involves reading the lines and understanding the script’s subtext and underlying themes.
  3. Character Development: Actors are encouraged to create a detailed backstory for their characters based on clues from the script and their imagination. This helps them to inhabit the character and make believable choices on stage.
  4. Emotional Memory: Adler discouraged using personal emotional memory (a technique popularized by Lee Strasberg), arguing that it can lead to indulgent and inconsistent performances. Instead, she encouraged actors to use their imagination to create emotional experiences.
  5. The Reality of Doing: Actors are taught to focus on what their character tries to achieve in each scene and commit to their actions thoroughly. This helps to create a sense of truth and realism in their performances.

In many ways, Adler’s Method is similar to Lee Strasberg’s, which is unsurprising since they worked together for years under the same company. 

They were also heavily influenced by Stanislavski’s art of acting, the Method, and the Meisner technique by Sanford Meisner.

Where Can Learn The Stella Adler Technique?

The central educational place to learn this Method is the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York—also the Stella Adler Academy of Acting in Los Angeles.

I recommend reading “The Technique of Acting” by Stella Adler, a great resource with exercises and examples for developing your acting skills.

See more good books on acting.

Famous Actors Who Used This Technique

Many successful actors have trained with Adler herself or at her studio. One of the most renowned actors trained was Marlon Brando. There’s even rehearsal footage of him being trained by Adler. 

Others who were known to be trained using this method are Salma Hayek, Diana Ross, Benicio del Toro, Warren Beatty, 

Mark Ruffalo, Vincent D’Onofrio, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Guest and Robert De Niro. 

What Are The Pros And Cons of Studying and Using the Stella Adler Technique?

Even though Stella Adler is considered one of the best teachers of all time, some elements of her technique might not suit your personality.

Below, I’ve listed some pros and cons of this approach to the acting craft.

Pros of Studying and Using the Stella Adler Technique:

  1. Emotional Connection: Adler’s technique emphasizes emotional connection with the role. It encourages actors to draw on their experiences and emotions to bring authenticity to their performances.
  2. Character Development: This technique focuses on character analysis and understanding the character’s motivation and backstory. It leads to a more nuanced and detailed performance.
  3. Imagination: Adler believed that an actor’s imagination is their most powerful tool. This technique encourages actors to use their imagination to create the character’s world, leading to a richer, more engaging performance.
  4. Personal Growth: The Adler technique can lead to personal growth and self-discovery by encouraging actors to draw on their emotions and past experiences.
  5. Versatility: The technique can be adapted to various acting styles and genres, making it a valuable tool for any actor.

Cons of Studying and Using the Stella Adler Technique:

  1. Emotional Strain: Drawing heavily on personal emotions and personal experiences can be emotionally draining and potentially harmful, particularly for those who have experienced trauma.
  2. Over-Analysis: The emphasis on character analysis can lead to over-analysis, hindering spontaneity and naturalness in performance.
  3. Challenging: The technique requires high self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which can be tough for less experienced actors.
  4. Time-Consuming: The detailed character analysis and world-building required by the Adler technique can be time-consuming and unsuitable for all acting situations.
  5. Not for Everyone: Some actors may find the technique too introspective or personal. It can be challenging for those struggling to connect their emotions with their characters.

Closing Thoughts: Is This Method Ideal For Acting?

The Adler technique is a demanding discipline that requires a great deal of study and practice.

However, it is also a deeply rewarding approach that can help actors to deliver powerful, believable performances.

Deciding whether this method is ideal for you is a personal decision. It depends on whether it resonates with you and makes you feel fulfilled acting-wise.

There’s no wrong choice in deciding this; have fun and explore your options!

Up Next: Awesome 1-minute monologues for auditions

About Stella Adler

Stella Adler was an American actress and acclaimed acting teacher who created the Stella Adler Acting Technique. She also founded and taught at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City and the Stella Adler Academy in Los Angeles.

Stella_Adler_in_Shadow_of_The_Thin_Man_trailer - public domain photo

Stella Adler is a notably known American actress and teacher who spent her career teaching her passion throughout her life. 


Born in Manhattan, New York City 1901, to a famous family of independent Yiddish art company entertainers. She began her acting career at a young age. At the age of four, she made her stage debut. She performed in her first play, Broken Hearts. 

She spent most of her time acting in her youth alongside her parents. In her college years, she attended New York University. 

Adult Life 

In the 1920s, actors who trained at Konstantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre came to the United States to lead classes. 

By 1925, Adler was introduced to the Stanislavski system of method acting. 

Stanislavski’s technique focused more on the character’s inner lives versus outer influences. It was a more realistic approach to acting and greatly influenced Russia’s acting world. 

His acting technique was so popular that it even traveled to American theatre. This impacted theater with more realistic acting, which had previously been more melodramatic. This method was highly influential on Adler and other prominent theater figures. 

The Group Theater  

The Group Theater was established, and its founding members were Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, and Harold Clurman. They were also successful American actors and directors.

They invited Stella Adler to join to become a part of their theater. Together, they were well-known as a revolutionary ensemble.  

They wanted to create realistic, conscious theater. This had a significant impact on Stanislavski’s acting method.

However, the group together did not always see eye to eye. 

While a part of this group, Adler began to disfavor Strasberg’s teaching of emotional recall from Stanislavski’s teaching system. She felt it limited actors. 

She then traveled to Paris, where Stanislavski was teaching currently, to question Stanislavski’s theories of the method and to see if it was necessary. She had learned that he had evolved his teaching techniques. 

Adler became the only American to be trained by Stanislavski using his new, updated method, while others in the States still practiced his outdated version using emotional recall.  

He taught actors to use their imagination and adapt to their character’s circumstances. With all new knowledge and experience, Adler returned to the States to introduce the new and improved method. 

With her return, she eventually broke away from the Group Theatre due to fundamentally different teaching beliefs, where she formed her acting school in 1949. 

She taught at the Yale School of Drama, New York University, The New School, and her acting studio in New York, Stella Adler Studio of Acting.


  • Kaylin Reed

    My name is Kaylin, I’m an actress and writer! I’m a college theater major and have a love for the arts. I’m a very creative person and love fueling myself with knowledge. With that I learned another passion of mine in writing and sharing knowledge with others!

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