Adams's Apples was recently awarded as the best experimental feature of Chicago Indie Film Awards. The film is directed by John Strasberg who has created an unconventional reimagining of one of Chekhov's greatest romantic comedies, "The Cherry Orchard." It's an unexpected combination of his strengths: A Moscow Theater-influenced black-box studio performance... and a wildly colorful and sensual auteur film style. It's mashup that dances effortlessly between these worlds, making every moment surprising and revealing.
John Strasberg is an American actor, director, teacher and writer, the son of Lee Strasberg, the famous Artistic Director of the Actors Studio, actor and theatre director, and Paula Strasberg, actress and coach of many famous actors, among them Marilyn Monroe, and the brother of actress, writer Susan Strasberg. John Strasberg teaching NY acting class
After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science in 1958, he spent a year at the University of Wisconsin before beginning to study acting with his father. His professional career began in 1960 as an Assistant Stage Manager at the New York City Center, and shortly after, he began his acting career off-Broadway in Five Evenings. He began teaching in 1964, when his father was ill. His career has remained multi-faceted throughout his life. He acted and stage managed during the three years of the existence of The Actors Studio Theater, acting in Marathon ’33, and stage managing Dynamite Tonight, Marathon ’33, and Blues for Mr. Charlie, during which he became one of the youngest Production Stage Managers on Broadway, and his father's production of The Three Sisters.
He taught acting at Columbia Pictures from 1966–68, and acted in several television shows and films. He returned to New York to teach at his father’s school Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in 1969. In 1971 he taught a workshop at the National Film Board of Canada. After returning to New York he acted in the Circle Repertory Company’s production of Lanford Wilson’s The Mound Builders.
He became Executive Director of The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in 1975. After leaving the Institute in 1977 he taught privately and produced a play Slugger directed by Marshall W. Mason. In 1979 he founded John Strasberg's The Real Stage in New York City. In 1980 he began teaching and directing in Europe, primarily in France and Spain, where he directed productions of William Shakespeare, Aristophanes, Henrik Ibsen, Eugene O'Neill, Luigi Pirandello among many other writers. Several of these productions won awards. Under Founder and Producing Artistic Director Sabra Jones, he was also Co-Artistic Director of The Mirror Repertory Company, where Geraldine Page was the Artist-in-Residence. Strasberg directed The Mirror’s productions of Paradise Lost by Clifford Odets, Inheritors by Susan Glaspell, Joan of Lorraine by Maxwell Anderson, Vivat! Vivat Regina! by Robert Bolt, and Rain by John Colton.
In 1985 he began living and working in Europe. In 1996 he returned to New York upon publication of his book on acting Accidentally On Purpose: A Memoir on Life, Acting, and the Nine Natural Laws of Creativity, an award-winning documentary of the same name was also created.
He created John Strasberg Studios, an International Center for Creative Development and Theater Research. In 2005 he created The Accidental Repertory Theater, which in 2011 produced several plays which he wrote and directed: Playing House, a modern play inspired by Ibsen's A Doll's House, and Adams' Apples, a modern play inspired by Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Strasberg is a life member of The Actors Studio.
It was our pleasure to inteview John Strasberg.
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
I’ve always been drawn to film, as an actor, director and writer. Why it’s happening now is because it’s one of the things I wanted to do when I came back to NY after living and working in Europe for 12 years, as a director and teacher. I can’t imagine anyone not being interested in film. My career just happened to take me more to the theater. I’ve worked as an actor in film and television, though not a lot. The first film I worked on was a training film made for the Army in 1961, I think. And, I worked at the National Film Board of Canada for 3 years in the early 1970’s. But, this is the first feature where I have been as totally involved as I am.
Your father is Lee Strasberg, the famous artistic director of the Actors Studio. What was it like to grow up in the Strasberg family as an artist and what kind of impact did your family have in your work as a filmmaker?
I won’t go into too much emotional detail about the family. But, certainly exposed to what I was exposed to, the world I lived in taught me a lot. As my sister Susan would say, “You learn by osmosis.” I don’t know how I know some of the stuff I know. My family has had no direct impact on my work as a filmmaker, as my moving into film as a director and writer has happened long after they have moved on. However, the exposure to the artistic movement of the Actors’ Studio, and its philosophy of reality and truth has certainly influenced my entire career.
Does cinema stand out more than the arts for you? Why?
No, it doesn’t stand out more as an art. All the arts are magnificent expressions of our perceptions and feelings about life. Film is a fantastic medium for both expression, and the ability to reach a larger public. Where theater is based in text, film is visual.
Adam's Apples is an experimental film based on reimagining one of Chekhov's greatest romantic comedies, "The Cherry Orchard". What inspired you to work on this project and how did the film go into production?
If by experimental you mean that a film is very personal and has an unusual structure, then yes, it is experimental. It is a very, very, low budget. And, part of the reason it appears experimental is because when I was preparing the production, raising money, thinking about how to translate the play I had written and which we performed in the theater in NY in 2011 into a film. I came upon the idea of making it about a company of actors making a film. It gave me a context that didn’t make the lack of a large budget workable. That’s how my imagination works. I’m very practical. The result was that we filmed it in my studio on Eighth Avenue, and in a wonderful old house in Massachusetts. When we began to edit, we all thought that we’d want to use the film from the country house. But, the scenes at the studio were so intimate and real, that we couldn’t decide between them. So, we decided to use both, and intercut them. I was worried about continuity, that wasn't a problem. It is unusual, though. As for being inspired by Chekhov, who wouldn’t be? But, I wanted to do something modern, about our lives now, honoring Chekhov in the sense that he was writing about the world he lived in. I could have set it in an earlier period. But, that didn’t honor Chekhov. And, I had to find equivalent realities in our time. Honestly , I think I did. And, it was fun writing it.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
Please tell us more about the production of the film. Most of the actors have worked with me, both in my private classes, and as part of the Accidental Repertory Theater, which I founded when I came back to NY in the late 1990’s. I think, clearly, that many of them could, and should, have wonderful careers. I hope that seeing their work will help. We are a family, which is what I’ve always tried to do when I cast any project I am directing. We’re not a group. We are a family. Even the production came through Cheryl E. Grant, who is the wonderful actress who plays my sister in the film. Julia Cook is her sister. And, Julia is a gem, a producer that is a dream come true. She found Gary Nolton, the cinematographer, who is largely responsible for the film's success. As my mother told me when I began acting, “Make friends with the photographer.” Well, Gary and I got along. We all got along. I always hope to work with people I like. It makes life more enjoyable. And often, the collaboration and exchange of ideas and skills makes the project better.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making the film?
Anyway I could. I was lucky to have several contributors who make the film possible, even with the little we had. I don’t know. When I work as a director, one of my first questions is, how much money do you have? Once we had enough, we found a way to plan and organize the shooting schedule with very little time. We shot the film in 8 days. And, cutting and finishing happened over time, as with most independent films, we needed to call in favors from wonderfully competent people to help us. Cheryl and I did the first pass, along with Gary. After that, we did what we could, when we could. It’s a seat of the pants project. I loved it. And, have been wondering why I didn’t work in film before.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?
Well, I don’t think you decide whether you belong to the club or not. In a way, I was born a prince of the theater. But, my life has always been lived independently. Part of that is a matter of the choices I’ve made. And, part of it is about the opportunities I was offered. And, those I seized. Most Americans go west, I went East. Maybe, it’s because I’m left-handed. But, I do hope that my work might be in the world of people like Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Woody Allen (in the sense of personal), and a host of European writer/directors.
Why was it important for you to create the John Strasberg studios after your returned to New York from Europe in 1996?
I’ve always felt better working for myself.
What is your artistic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as an artist and a filmmaker?
I struggled with the idea that we need to have goals. Finally, I don’t believe you need a goal in life. The goal is simply to trust yourself, live life as fully as possible, and work hard to try to make your dreams come true. I hope I will have more projects before my time is up.
What kind of impact would your film, "Adam's Apples" have in the world and who is your audience for this experimental feature?
I can’t wait to find that out. I just hope that the film has the opportunity to be seen, so that the people who will respond to it will be able to see it. I know that some of my work in the theater has moved people, and perhaps, inspired some. Being awarded this honor by the Festival can only help me to communicate with people. And, I am very grateful for all the help I can get.