The Vault

A Few of Stella Adler’s Notes on Tennessee Williams’ Female Characters

The Vault is Slate’s new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This is a page from acting instructor Stella Adler’s teaching notes on two Tennessee Williams characters: Amanda Wingfield, from Glass Menagerie, and Blanche DuBois, from A Streetcar Named Desire.

Adler used the notes in 1974 when teaching at her New York school, then named the Stella Adler Conservatory (now the Stella Adler Studio of Acting). By that time, the 73-year-old was legendary, having taught a roster of successful actors that included Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Judy Garland, and Martin Sheen.

The notes give a sense of how Adler conducted her script analysis classes. Director Peter Bogdanovich, who enrolled in these courses in the late 1950s, reports that of the classes Adler taught, this one was “the most daunting and the most electrifying”:

Her allusions to other plays and playwrights came one on top of the other. She was not just teaching how to act these plays—how to interpret them, as Stella preferred to put it—she was also teaching direction, and literature, and history.

Adler was good friends with Tennessee Williams, and these notes show how deeply the characterizations of Wingfield and DuBois resonated with her. “He understands these lost women,” she writes. “You feel that his heart is with these lost creatures.”

Amazingly, given the complexity of the edits on this page, Adler apparently never referred to her notes while actually teaching. She delivered her thoughts, Bogdanovich reports, using an “explosive, sometimes stream-of-consciousness manner of speaking, all of it extemporaneous.” 

Adler Notes

Stella Adler and Harold Clurman Papers, Performing Arts Collection, Harry Ransom Center. Image courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center.