Stella Adler (February 10, 1901 – December 21, 1992) was an American actress and an acclaimed acting teacher who founded the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City (1949), where she taught for over four decades.
Born in New York City's Lower East Side, Adler was a member of the Jewish-American Adler acting dynasty, the youngest daughter of Sara and Jacob P. Adler, the sister of Luther and Jay Adler, and half-sister of Charles Adler, in fact all her five siblings were actors. Jacob and Sara Adler were two of the finest actors of the American Yiddish theatre. They were a significant part of a vital ethnic theatrical scene that thrived in New York from the late 19th century well into the 1950s. Adler would become the most famous and influential member of her family.
Adler was the only American actor to be instructed in the art of acting by Konstantin Stanislavski, widely considered the father of Modern Acting Technique. She was a prominent member of the Group Theatre, but differences of opinion with Lee Strasberg over the correct teaching of the Stanislavski System (later developed by Strasberg into Method acting) contributed to her breaking off from the group.
Adler's biggest issue with Strasberg concerned whether an actor should use the technique of "affective memory" (recalling a personal event or sensory experience for more expressive and truthful behavior), or living in the moment, using your partner to create a believable result. It's been said that after Strasberg died, Adler asked for a moment of silence in her class for the famous actor. Afterwards, she allegedly claimed that it would take a hundred years to repair what Strasberg did to acting.
The fundamental difference between Strasberg and Adler is in how each approaches the problem of accessing emotion. Strasberg was always a strong advocate of emotional memory, i.e. using the five senses to evoke a past private emotion, whereas Adler thought that if you studied the text and truly believed in the imaginary circumstances, all the emotions in the script would surface organically.