PAUL     MANN
Actor - Teacher
Dec. 2, 1913 - Sept. 24, 1985
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PAUL MANN: LEGACY

In 2010, Boston University and the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center became the repository of Mann’s archive called The Paul Mann Collection.  This ongoing process includes correspondence, manuscripts, typescript, audiotapes, photographs, lectures and other material including government documents from the Blacklist era.  The archive traces his career from his early training to his start in the New York theatre and his relationships with major American and European theatre artists including Paul Robeson, Michael Chekhov, Erwin Piscator, Brecht and more.  Also included is original teaching material from the Paul Mann Actors Workshop that influenced generations of leading actors and directors in the United States and abroad.

 

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SIDNEY POITIER
Actor, Writer

Paul Mann has been the single most important influence in my career over the thirty-five years I have known him.  His technique in teaching and performing was of a nature that one found it difficult to differentiate between the reality of every day life on the one hand, and the theatrical reality he created to resemble it so closely, on the other.

He taught me the fundamentals of my craft, only after he had broken me away from the inhibiting bad habits I had accumulated as a young actor, from teachers who were not very good.  Those years under Paul Mann’s guidance released in me such creative energy as was native to my personality.  Paul Mann and Lloyd Richards* had, to my mind, offered the best training a young actor or actress could possibly receive in New York City, indeed in all of America, during those twenty five or more years following 1950.  There were, of course, other places where good work was being done.  But no where else, other than at Paul Mann’s, could be found the in-depth precision of scene work analysis that freed so many of us at the Paul Mann Actor’s Workshop from the scourge of the surface acting Paul called “indicating,” meaning the kind of acting in which one would have been taught to indicate an emotion rather than genuinely experience it.

The organic life-like technique taught by Paul Mann is alive and well on America’s screens and stages by actors and actresses who apply his teachings through their work.  And I for one will continue to do all I can to perpetuate the principles of his technique which has proven so successful in my own career.

*Lloyd Richards was trained by Paul and became his assistant and a teacher at the Paul Mann Actors Workshop.

Sidney Poitier, Paul Mann, Lloyd Richards at the Paul Mann Actors Workshop during RAISIN IN THE SUN.
Sidney Poitier, Paul Mann, Lloyd Richards at the Paul Mann Actors Workshop during RAISIN IN THE SUN.
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DOUGLAS TURNER WARD
Artistic Director,
Negro Ensemble Company

Paul was a dominant artistic influence upon me.  Besides a mentor, he was also a cherished friend.

In areas of craft, Paul’s emphasis on ‘action’ proved to be the touchstone of my career as actor, director, and playwright.  “Who are you?”, “What do you want?”, “Why are you here?”, “What’s your objective?”, “What are you doing to achieve your goal?”, “How urgent is it?”, etc.—the ABC’s really— ring with the freshness of insight thirty years later as when I first heard them. They guide me. They still work.

My esteem for Paul was evidenced when the Negro Ensemble Company was founded. I didn’t hesitate to secure him as master-trainer for the fledgling acting company I had assembled. I was overjoyed to have access to the best. And you must remember that 1967 was during an era of black revolt where whites playing a prominent role among blacks were being legitimately questioned. I knew that Paul would override those doubts through his dedication to the ideals of the NEC, through the excellence of his instructions and through the genuineness of his humanist principles. Needless to say, I was not wrong. Paul’s crash-training of that original Company contributed decisively to its instant impact and critical success.

But this was nothing new.  Paul then was already a pioneer in his relationship to black performers.  It’s no accident that the roster of black performers having studied with him reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ list of the profession.  Paul pioneered in seeking us out and providing a welcome place in his Workshop—not to do us a favor, but because he deemed our presence and participation essential to his own methods and goals.

I could go on and on about Paul and hope on other occasions to do so, however, I would like to conclude this letter with comments about only one aspect of Paul’s work and legacy—only because it became a matter of controversy during Paul’s ordeal shortly before his death.  The matter of the “dubious” erotic aspect in his methodology.

I can still remember the wide-eyed response of my acting class when we were informed that our next assignment would be to create a scene where it necessitated taking off all of our clothes—down to just underwear. “Why?”, “What for?”, “What did it have to do with acting?”, and so on.  I still laugh when I recall the various stratagems and subterfuges employed to circumvent the directive.  (Incidentally, the males attempted to be most evasive.)  It was only after we had completed the assignment and participated in the resulting critical discussion that we began to fathom the various intentions of the exercise—certainly not a vicarious, peepshow, striptease parade or leering spectacle.  Intentions which included among other pedagogical aims irrefutable proof that ‘concentration’ and ‘involvement’ could make you totally relaxed and completely actor-oblivious to all outside distractions or self-conscious inhibitions.

We learned to embrace the criteria of “serious intent” as the motivating factor justifying our participating as performers.  The “serious intent” of the play, the project, etc., justified our submitting ourselves to the demands of unfettered physical or emotional involvement.  Physical exposure was almost incidental.  Emotional stripping was primary.  Yes, there were risks involved.  But Paul always told us that that’s what we were about.  Our responsibility as actors was to ‘use’ ourselves for the illumination of the sum of human behavior.  Where could we hide?  This is what made our function equal to and worthy of comparison to any other craft or profession.  I have applied the Paul-taught criteria of ‘serious intent’ throughout my career as actor and director.  Once convinced of the validity of the project, I am willing to submit to and request from others the ultimate in commitment and involvement.

I maintain that an actor does not have to kill, physically hurt, or fuck on stage.  Anything less than that is a fair risk.

P.S.  Another topic worth exploring is Paul’s influence upon students who went out later to create or guide the kinds of theaters they desired. . .Lloyd, myself, Crystal and George, Phil, Ed, etc. . .

Douglas Turner Ward
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W. McNEIL LOWRY
Former Vice-President Humanities and the Arts,
The Ford Foundation

In 1974 I recommended for Paul Mann the most comprehensive travel and study program I had awarded in my long career at the Ford Foundation, the grant was also exceptional in another way:  Paul Mann was a national treasure in professional theatre and an important link with Russian and European training methods.

In 1974 Paul Mann was teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay;  his goal there or elsewhere was an American Theatre Training Institute. Between 1950 and 1973 he had visited theatres, conservatories or festivals in England, France, Poland, Austria, Italy, Rumania, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, the German Democratic Republic, and the Soviet Union, but chiefly as a guest of various national chapters of the International Theatre Institute.

With my encouragement Paul Mann in February 1974 submitted an itinerary of 181 days of travel and observation “sharing and broadening” his experience in the trainng and development of theatre professionals.  Elia Kazan and Rosamund Gilder, one of the founders of the International Theatre Institute, were Mann’s formal endorsers in the Ford Foundation’s consideration of the proposed grant;  Peter Brook was to introduce Mann to his British associates and be his host at the International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris. 

The decade after 1974 saw an exploration of Soviet theatre by U.S. directors, artistic directors and other theatre professionals far more concretely focused than previously, partly indeed owing to initiatives inside and outside the ITI taken by Edith Markson, despite ruptures in U.S.-U.S.S.R. cultural relations after 1978.  The improved contacts can often be traced directly to the relationships renewed or begun by Paul Mann in 1974.

1976 SOVIET LIFE MAGAZINE
Paul Mann and Lenore Harris - Soviet Life 1976.

Oleg Yefremov Artistic Director Moscow Art Theatre and Paul Mann NYC Lecture 1970s.
Oleg Yefremov Artistic Director Moscow Art Theatre and Paul Mann NYC Lecture 1970s.
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EDWIN SHERIN
Director
(This text has been condensed from a longer version.)

When I studied with Paul Mann, 1953-1956, the Actor’s Workshop, his creation, was the place to be.  Sidney Poitier, Paul Mazursky, Lloyd Richards, Douglas Turner Ward, climbed like the other two-hundred of us, the four steep, dusty flights to his studio on the top floor of an old building long since torn down.  The studio, at 6th Avenue and 43rd Street, was a mecca for eager, idealistic theatre professionals, who sought time with Paul so that they might enrich their abilities and satisfy their craving to do it “right.”  The loft was often filled with gypsies fresh from a matinee who desired to integrate his system for work into their already highly developed skills. 

Paul Mann was magical as he reached deep into the hearts of his students and started them vibrating with a love of truth and a common humanity.  His insights into human behavior were often overwhelming in their clarity and subtlety.  His enthusiasm and energy, fed, it seemed, by the enormous milkshakes or mile-high lemon cokes he consumed during class, seemed limitless.  The theatre he envisioned was bold, impolite, joyous and juicy, like his hugs and kisses, full, wet and unsentimental, sometimes unnerving to the faint-hearted.  But that was the way he taught in and out of the classroom, sometimes even in the center aisle of a Broadway theatre during intermission—with shouts and hugs and kisses and always the excitement of the ART, especially, but not exclusively, when the work was good.  He was mentor to so many.

In the years that followed, when visiting his Westside apartment for a breakfast of smoked whitefish, sturgeon, bagels and lox, cream-cheese and tea, we would stuff ourselves and usually end up planning a production.

Only one, unfortunately, became a reality, when in 1967, at the Arena Stage, Paul as leading actor and I as director engineered into Gogol’s The Inspector General, the ideas and passions he had nurtured in me and that now existed between us. His work on this wonderful farce was as consuming as a prairie-fire, unrelenting, precise in every detail of costume and makeup, endlessly exploring the translation.  He doggedly learned the enormous role in three weeks, something he was ill-prepared to do by temperament or training.  Most of his fellow actors were awed by the profundity of his stage-life and the totality of his involvement.  Some, to this day, revile the memory of the time they played serfs to Paul Mann’s District Governor in Tzarist Russia.

Paul Mann’s genius seems reflected in this production.  Some performers adored him, some feared him.  His coarseness, organic to the work on the part, was a constant source of confusion within the company, and the debate raged between supporters and detractors during the entire run.

These seeming excesses, bound to his sense of truth and his search for its expression were a source of trouble for him throughout his life. So many opportunities were denied or destroyed because of this temperament, for Paul could not find a way to mitigate the energy of his being nor temper the compulsion of his ideas. His Theory of Physical Action, for example, required a headlong leap into the most private resources of the mind and soul.  Paul Mann spared nothing in his search for a better “acting system” least of all himself.

I have seen strong people intimidated by the space he took up, close friends embarrassed by his loudness, fellow teachers unable or unwilling to absorb his stream of ideas, lesser minds always on the competitive edge with him.  He was not tranquil, nor safe, nor willing to accept the more traditional paths, the less demanding paths in the pursuit of his art.

But Paul Mann’s life will remain an eternal legacy to the grand possibilities and his unrealized vision is that part of our theatre that still lives inside the artists he touched, who sometimes dreamed with him of all those grand possibilities.

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Ed Sherin and Paul Mann, Stratford, CT 1970's.
Ed Sherin and Paul Mann, Stratford, CT 1970's.
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ELIA KAZAN
Director, Writer
Page 143, A LIFE by Elia Kazan
“No one who came out of the Group and now teaches does it precisely the same way or with the same emphasis.  Sanford Meisner, Robert Lewis, Stella Adler, and Paul Mann have all helped actors become artists.  I know for the best of reasons, I’ve worked with “their” actors in films.”
Paul Mann 1930's The Group Theater.
Paul Mann 1930's The Group Theater.
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Paul Mann and Barbara Loden 1967. From Katja Raganelli's documentary I AM WANDA. Paul Mann rehearsing with Barbara Loden in O'Neill's BEFORE BREAKFAST at the PAUL MANN ACTORS WORKSHOP,1983.
Paul Mann and Barbara Loden 1967.From Katja Raganelli's documentary I AM WANDA. Paul Mann rehearsing with Barbara Loden in O'Neill's BEFORE BREAKFAST at the PAUL MANN ACTORS WORKSHOP, 1980.
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JANUSZ WARMINSKI
Artistic Director/Manager
Teatr Ateneum (Warsaw, Poland)
Condensed from a longer text (1985)

When Paul came to Poland in 1949, I was a so-called “young angry”.  With a group of young actors we founded the Nowy Theatre in Lodz with a strong leftist socio-artistic program.

Paul came looking for the traces of the great American black actor, Ira Aldridge.  We found his grave.  We inclined our heads in front of it, we paid tribute to his memory and there at that very moment started, symbolically, our long lasting friendship.

Paul wanted, as did we, the young people from the Nowy Theatre, to be a radical reformer of the theatre reality which came after World War 11.  We intensely listened to what he said about the American theatre, the social situation of its actors.  I was his interpreter.  We were right at the beginning of a great adventure of a lifetime—we were to found a theatre worthy of our times, a theatre that was to measure up to our dreams and unlimited ambitions.  We made the first step—he became an honorary member of the Ensemble.  In this same period the Nowy Theatre and the Jewish Theatre whose director was Ida Kaminska, the daughter of the great Ester and her husband Marian Melman, got closer together.  This first encounter with the Polish and Jewish theatres had a serious influence on his later thinking about the theatre.

I was beginning my theatre career with great idealism.  Paul was exploding with energy and a passion to act.  He was a rebel; he wanted to fight for the theatre of his dreams.  The theatre was his life.  Everything was being subordinated.  He could speak for hours about acting.  He was constantly looking for new sources of the acting art.

He aimed at permanently improving his craft.  He was then and during all his theatrical life, an enthusiast of the Stanislavsky method.  Whenever he visited Poland he always also visited the Soviet Union.  He had another attachment to Poland because his parents were born here.  He found not only friends but rich material for his research.

In the Soviet Union he was looking for the confirmation of his reflections and experiences with the application of the Stanislavsky system.  He befriended the few collaborators and students of Konstantin Sergeyevich who were still alive.  He saw in Stanislavsky’s method a basis for the creation of an American version of the system.  A wonderful concept of “physical/psycho-physical/activity” opening up exceptional perspectives for modern acting.  Stanislavsky was precisely the major element of our bond that had its beginnings in 1949.  Stanislavsky was a permanent link in our friendship.

I began to understand the conflicts involved in this when in 1964 I spent an afternoon with Lee Strasberg in his apartment where for three hours, he explained his approach to me used at the Actors Studio.  I did not agree with a great deal of his views and how he used Stanislavsky’s teachings.  Paul shared my reservations.

In New York in December, 1964 a theatre conference took place with the participation of Moscow Art Theatre representatives among whom was Toporkov.  I attended the sessions in which the most eminent American artists and pedagogues participated.  I spent many a night talking with Paul.  We strongly opposed the orthodox, bureaucratic copying of the instructions written out in his books, the simplified application of the method.  We opposed the small realism, the scrupulous, naturalistic imitation of life, the fetishisation of “affective memory.”  A creative attitude towards Stanislavky’s legacy commanded applying his theory of physical activity only as a point of departure for one’s own method of working.

At this time when I was in New York (November—December, 1964), Paul was the Director of Training of Lincoln Center.  I realized then for the first time, that the training of actors meant more to him than acting itself.  The reasons for that were surely of a complex nature.  It was perhaps some kind of compensation for the lack of possibility of fully expressing himself as an actor.

His was an exuberant, open and uncompromising nature.  He could not accept everything that was proposed to him, to enroll in each and every theatre, to collaborate with each and every stage director.  He himself knew too much about acting, he responded in too organic a way to each remark to be only an obedient performer.  He also had his principles, his opinions; he was not willing to give them up at any given price.  This adherence to his principles did not help him to have an easy career.

I saw Paul act when he was a member of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center in Arthur Miller’s After The Fall and Incident at Vichy and also in Elia Kazan’s film America, America. I was constantly visualizing working with him.  On the stage and screen he seemed to me low-key and disciplined, restraining the fervent expression of his face, his body, his hands.  He was gifted by nature with exceptional psycho-physical qualities, with extraordinary expressiveness.  In his life he was not in control of it.  He didn’t want to be.  He allowed himself full physical expression.  He was “my” actor.  I observed him with the greatest attention.  I studied him.  My experience as a stage director became richer.  I regretted deeply that I could not cast him in some of the plays I directed.

To be part of a theatre with an ensemble which has the same socio-artistic ideals, works using the same method of training while constantly improving its craft, to play in a classical and contemporary repertory representing the highest literary values— was his never fully fulfilled dream.  The Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center was undoubtedly a great chance for the creation of such a theatre.  The crisis, which caused the departure from the theatre of Robert Whitehead, followed by Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller made these dreams not possible.  Paul could not get over it. 

However, I do not know if the most important event in his career as a pedagogue was not the adventure he experienced with the Negro Ensemble Company.  When he started his collaboration with them he was full of enthusiasm.  I remember the letters he then wrote to me.  In this work, among these people, it was as if Paul found himself.  He was deeply rooted in the American reality—he had radical social opinions.  Art was not his only tie with the black artists.  The Weltanschauung was the integral art of the concept of theatre which he cultivated from his early youth on, throughout all of his life.

Paul’s picture would not be complete without mentioning his friendship:  a strong, male friendship.  As a friend Paul had an extraordinary valuable quality—he never imposed on me his opinions, his point of view concerning artistic or political issues.  He knew how to respect the differences between us.  For me it had a special importance.

There are friendships which even death cannot end.

International Theatre Tour 1950.
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