Kim Stanley On Acting: A Warrior of the Art

A substantial chapter of Follies of God is devoted to Kim Stanley and her relationship with Tennessee, as well as the role she played in his life as an example of both what to do and what not to do. (A role she accepted with wry amusement.) In one particularly long phone call, Kim spoke of her disappointment in several of her students, whom she loved, but who were, she admitted, "deficient in vital areas." I asked her to elaborate.

Kim Stanley
Via Phone
June, 1992

I don't know how to speak to people about acting if they don't recognize it as an art, as a high calling, as a terribly demanding pursuit that will require not only more than you realize but more than you will ever possess. This is a terribly daunting thing to say to students, particularly young people who want so badly to learn,  to create a life they've dreamed about all their lives, but they simply do not understand how much will be required to just maintain the schedule of living, much less the rigorous demands of filling a part and keeping your mind and your heart and your body alive to the merciless thing they've asked to marry.

I dreamed a lot when I was growing up. I told you about that. I was, as Tennessee said, a fabulist, but you have to get out of that amber dream of desire and really craft an artist out of the rudimentary tools you were born with. For the entire life of an actor, you are burnishing and sharpening and replacing tools that you need to have at their highest levels of performance--over and over again. It is never enough. You have so much to read, to listen to, to investigate, to endure. Your heart has to be broken and to mend. Your mind has to be challenged and stretched and adapted. Your body has to be strong and supple and tough. It is an almost impossible task: Actually, it is an impossible task, but in bravely attempting to fulfill it, you might achieve truth or greatness or inspiration.

I just don't see the passion as much as I used to. I see the dream and the aching want, but I don't see the hungry passion to give up everything else to become a warrior of the art of acting. Religious orders remind me of how I lived when I first began to realize the challenge that was ahead of me. When I was working with Herbert [Berghof] and Lee [Strasberg] and Harold [Clurman], I began to see how hard it would all be, but also how gratifying, how ennobling. When you see what is demanded, you think of bolting, and many do and many are right to do so.

Most of the rewards are interior rewards--you learn and feel and share so much--and it takes a long time and a great deal of patience to have a reward that you can see or feel or barter with. I think a student needs to think more of his or her soul than his or her material needs; I think a student--a good student--needs to show some penitential study and understanding before they look out and expect some applause and some affirmation.

I don't see as many students ready for the long haul as I used to, and I don't know if my vision is failing or if the students are failing.

But it has me down.

Stanley, photographed by Carl Van Vechten.


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