Paul Mann achieved national as well as international recognition as one of North
America’s most distinguished master teachers of acting, and as a noted actor
and director as well. He was professionally involved in all aspects of the
American theatre - Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theatre and Academe.
He was awarded one of the largest theatre grants by the Ford Foundation, which
extended through 1974 and 1975, to review the theatre training systems in acting
and directing of all the principal centers of Europe (East and West), Canada
and the U.S.A.
Selected to be the Director of Training as well as an original member of the
Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center, he was also the Director of Training for
the Negro Ensemble Company and Director of Acting Training of the Dance Theatre
of Harlem. In the course of his professional life, Mr. Mann was associated
with major theatre institutions - among them, the famed Group Theatre, the
Theatre Guild, The Neighborhood Playhouse, Erwin Piscator’s Studio Theatre,
the Michael Chekhov Theatre, New Stages, the International Theatre Institute
(ITI-UNESCO), the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), the Yale Repertory
Theatre, Washington’s Arena Stage, and the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center.
Born Yisrol Libman in Toronto, Canada. The older of two sons Yisrol
and Laben (later Larry), born to Charles Libman, a successful merchant of ladies
apparel stores and Rose Steinberg. Both parents were Jewish immigrants who
came to Canada from the city of Ostrowiec, Poland during a time of extreme
anti-Semitism after World War I. Although his parents were not religious, they
sent Paul to the I.L. Peretz Workman’s Circle School in Toronto, which
he attended in addition to a traditional high school. His teacher and mentor
there was Itche Goldberg, at the time not much older than the four girls and
four boys that made up the class he taught. (Goldberg later became a master
Yiddish scholar.) Mann said that his secular progressive schooling at the Workman’s
Circle gave him the fundamental and solid principles of his life and work and
was the underlying cultural and ethical foundation of his artistic, philosophical
and political worldviews. And it was during this time while in high school,
that he listened to a short wave radio to American jazz stations and he began
to hear about the persecution of the American Negro. Their music and stories
of injustice had a life-long impact on him. Major black artists and activists
(many former students) became close friends and colleagues in later years when
he became an established actor and teacher.
At sixteen he ran away from home and went to New York to become an actor. His
parents notified the authorities who brought the underage high school student
back to Toronto. At eighteen he won a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse
and upon graduating became an American citizen. His teachers advised him to
change his name if he expected to seriously work on the stage but he refused
and began to get stage roles under the name Yisrol Libman. Fluent in Yiddish,
Paul would attend performances of the flourishing Jewish theatre companies
at that time in New York City and became enthralled with the actor Paul Muni,
a major stage and film star. This inspired him to change his name to Paul Mann.
His skill and talent as an actor and his leading man good looks made him a
popular and respected actor among his peers. He became the youngest member
of the legendary Group Theatre, acting with the company in their productions
until its demise. He was starring on Broadway with Lili Palmer and Zero Mostel
in FLIGHT INTO EGYPT, directed by Elia Kazan, when he was spotted by Irene
Selznick on a star search for a leading man to play opposite the movie star
Jennifer Jones in the movie RUBY GENTRY. After successfully managing to get
studio head and Producer, David O. Selznick to agree to his terms, Hollywood
gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Mike Connolly each ran a headline asking:
“Does a major Hollywood producer know his new star has been subpoenaed
to go before the House on Un-American Activities? “ Paul’s name appeared in the
infamous RED CHANNELS. Blacklisted during the Joseph McCarthy era for refusing
to name names, he was prevented from acting until Kazan cast him in his masterpiece
AMERICA, AMERICA. Mann was nominated for his first Golden Globe award. His
second nomination would come years later when director Norman Jewison requested
him for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.
Paul Mann began teaching in 1949 at the request of a group of his theatre colleagues.
This led to a series of classes “for professionals only.” In time,
Mr. Mann’s experience and experimentation convinced him that it was simply
elitism to train “pros’ only, and that all too often what was considered ’professional’ was,
rather, an accumulation of commercially acceptable clichés and acting habits,
superficially indicated emotions and vocal tricks - the entire baggage of “experience” resulting
from inadequate training and involvement in badly directed and hurried productions.
Consequently, the organization of a training workshop was essential to develop
professional and aspiring actors, dancers, singers, directors and playwrights
- all based fundamentally on actor’s training. To fill this need, Mr. Mann
founded his Actors Workshop in 1952. His courses were based on the world famous
system of actor training developed by Constantin Stanislavski and furthered
by the experimentation of his students, Meyerhold, Vachtangov, and of Michael
Chekhov with whom Mann studied. Mr. Mann’s artistic approach was also seriously
influenced by his work and study with The Group Theatre, Erwin Piscator, and
Martha Graham, the work of Brecht through visits with Helene Weigel at the
Berliner Ensemble, the Neighborhood Playhouse, and with leading European theatre
companies, particularly the Moscow Art Theatre.
He was a pioneer in offering scholarships (six) honoring the legendary Black
theatre artists, Ira Aldridge and Rose McClendon. Other scholarships were given
in tribute to Hallie Flanagan, the prestigious director of the Vassar Experimental
Theatre and the National Director of the historic Federal Theatre of the U.S.A.
and to one in memory of Irene Lewisohn, the founding director of The Neighborhood
Playhouse; and another in memory of the great Canadian theatre critic, Nathan
In the course of his teaching at the Paul Mann Actors Workshop (and at the Lincoln
Center Repertory Company) he contributed to the training of a whole new generation
of theatre and film professionals. Among them Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson,
Faye Dunaway, Ruby Dee, Barbara Loden, Ossie Davis, Hal Linden, Lloyd Richards,
Edwin Sherin, Paul Mazursky, and Douglas Turner Ward.
A major element of Mann’s unique and challenging acting technique and
explored the actor’s physical life by nurturing and encouraging the release
of an uninhibited imagination through exercises. This aspect of his training
- the un-self-conscious comfort of the actor’s physical being-- was noticeable
in his own performances and in the actors he trained professionally. Uninhibited
imagination, comfort in one’s body in order to release oneself in the circumstances
of the play and trust in embracing one’s sexual being, resulted in an authentic
physical truth from his actors and directors. In the 1970’s the process
of a changing political climate had been underway for quite some time, and the
movement was coming to the forefront and it began to voice, question and change
the emotional and physical relationship between men and women. Even years later
in 1992, this change was creating a growing controversial politically correct
climate in the country, producing such plays as David Mamet’s OLEANNA.
In the air there was a great impetus to accuse and to sue. Women’s history
of suppression and the growing fervor of women’s rights were becoming angrier.
It was in this mood in the country when Mann was sued in civil court by a group
of his female students. (Their previous attempt at a more serious case was thrown
out of court). The scandal passed but the attempts to destroy his reputation
and his teaching methods took an enormous toll on his life.