The Stella Adler Theatre
Los Angeles, California
Saturday, August 5, 2000
Thank you to the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatres
Please do not repost or reproduce in any form.
Irene Gilbert, President and Founding Director of the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatres, introduces Kate Mulgrew.
Irene Gilbert: Kate studied with Stella Adler and she has lots of stories to tell you, so now without any further delay I want to introduce to you our guest speaker, Kate Mulgrew.
Kate enters to much applause, and approaches a podium set up in the center of the stage.
Kate: Hello. How many of you are students here? How many of you ever met Stella Adler?
I came to Stella Adler straight out of the cornfields and pastures of Iowa. I was seventeen years old. I thought I was pretty fearless, I certainly was full of myself. It had ever been my dream to be a professional actress. I thought I would execute that with little ado in New York City. I had the arrogance of youth. But I did have the courage of some wisdom in seeking out Stella Adler, which I did in a very devious way.
My father never wanted me to be an actress, or certainly didn’t think I would become one. My mother, on the other hand, fully supported me. So in order to get to NYU, which had a collaborative program with the Stella Adler Conservatory, I had to lie to my father, which I’ve been doing ever since! So I said “Daddy, I want to go to New York University. I must seek an academic career. I think I will major in philosophy.” He said “Now you’re really full of it”. That was the deal. In order to attend Stella Adler Conservatory, I had to go to NYU. You should know that I never attended one academic class! I was very busy uptown – and I will never forget the first moment of the first day of the first class with that woman who changed my life. And I’m very ,very sorry that you never met her because it’s impossible to evoke her memory. However I will share a couple of stories with you.
On that first day, we were gathered – I’d say a class of about sixteen or seventeen. Very nervous, of course. It was script interpretation, which became my favorite class. And there was a long delay. No Stella.
(Kate moves out from behind the podium – she gestures to the audience, describing the scene). You were the class, right. The stage was bare and at one end (of the stage) there was a table and a throne. She didn’t have a chair, she had a throne (Kate makes large gestures describing the throne). (speaking to Irene Gilbert) True or false, Irene? Red velvet.
So we were sitting. Finally, after I’m sure what must have been fifteen or twenty minutes - she knows how to make an entrance - in she came. And she just looked. When I tell you that a queen entered….(Kate stands straight up and takes on the persona of Stella Adler) Impeccably coiffed. The blonde hair up. She had white silk shirts, which she wore so far down (Kate indicates a low cut blouse, and then bends over to emphasize her bosom). She had ample and extraordinary bosoms. A heavy strand of pearls. Long silk pants. Right. Gorgeous satin shoes. And she just did this. (Kate struts across the stage, continuing the imitation.) She sat. We burst into applause. One by one – I mean I just sat there like this (Kate’s jaw drops open) – one by one the students walked in …. I mean clearly it was Queen Elizabeth – I mean it was just an absolute – devotion to her from the first moment. And I realized not only how great she was as a presence, but she in one moment managed to do an extraordinary thing. If you treat your audience like royalty, you will always give a better performance. And Stella was, in essence, the audience for us, right? So it was a wonderful message.
Then began class. Which was hell.
She was a merciless and devastating teacher for those whom she believed in. I don’t know why she believed in me, but she did. And she was very tough on me. Now you may hear that she was a loving, sweet, kind - that was not my experience with Stella.
The very first thing she said to me was “Stop it. What are you doing?”
(Kate takes on a ‘young persona’) “Maggie from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, Miss Adler.”
(Deepens her voice) “That is not Maggie from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’; Tennessee Williams is turning over in his grave. You’re in the banker’s way.” Just like that.
“I’m in the what?”
“You’re in the banker’s way. Don’t you know what that means?”
“What is a banker? Somebody who goes to a bank from nine to five. What do they do? Count money. They are boring. They are mediocre. And they do not belong in the theatre.”
So that was the thing you never wanted to hear. “You’re in the banker’s way.”
The other thing you wanted to hear was “You must be bigger than life.” She had no patience or time – and in fact I think it stirred up a kind of loathing in her – for the lazy naturalistic school of acting. (Kate walks to the back of the stage where there is a bed set up and sits down on it) Which a guy like Marlon Brando may seem to have, but of course is so extraordinarily genius he doesn’t, he transcended it. There were guys in my class who I think were either so afraid of her, or who were so essentially mediocre that their way was this way. (Kate leans back on the bed, crosses her legs and sits staring into space.)
And I remember one day Stella said “What are you thinking about?” to the young man and he said “Nothing.” She said “I’ve heard nothing from you for ten weeks. Do you think of anything?” He said “Sure I do, Stella, I got a lot of thoughts.” “Really. Such as?” “Why would I share them with you Stella, they’re personal?” “Ah. I see. And do you react to anything?” “Yah. I react to what I want to react to. I don’t do it on a dime.”
(Kate gets up from the bed and crosses the stage to a table.) She went over to the table. (Kate pretends to picks up) A book of matches. (She walks across the stage to the miming striking a match). “You only react when you want to react.” (Kate mimes lighting the match) “Hold out your hand. (Kate mimes holding the flaming match over the remembered young man’s hand) And he held his hand there and did not react - to show her - what an idiot he really was. And do you know what she said – I mean she burned his hand. She said “Get out and never come back.”
She wanted actors in her classroom. (Kate crosses back to stand behind the podium) And she wanted some nobility I think. I think Stella knew she was prescient, she was perspicacious as hell, she was very grand.
The theatre is bigger than life. That’s what she taught me. The theatre is not an imitation of life as we lead it. It is bigger than life. We are meant to elevate ourselves when we are on stage. We are meant to ennoble ourselves as actors and to exalt the audience as a result. That was her whole mission. She wasn’t interested in sloppiness. She wasn’t interested in (Kate bobbles her head in imitation of a ‘sloppy actor’) you know, how moved you could be by somebody throwing up. She was interested in the electrifying ability to pick it up and throw it to you and have you stunned and moved by it at the same time. (Kate has moved back to sit on the bed). I remember when I was doing Maggie, which I did for weeks and weeks and weeks – I was so pathetic. “Now…(quotes from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)”. After I did it six times (Kate rises from the bed) she said “I’ve had enough of Iowa,” and she grabbed my hair and she dragged me across the stage and (Kate has mimed Stella’s grab, etc. and now imitates her shaking her by the hair) she said “We’ll get this God damned Iowa out of you. Now. Maggie. You are dying for him. Dying. Does a little girl from the cornfields of Iowa know what that means? Get up on that stage. Come back on. Die.” (Kate falls back onto the bed). I did. And I’m telling you. The accent went. Everything went except ‘I have to tell Brick that I love him’. It was very quiet and it was very, very different and I finished and she said “Now, we have an actress.”
My heart… you know you just… but she taught me. It’s only that technique. It’s a difficult technique to understand and an even more difficult one to assimilate at the age of seventeen as you can imagine. At seventeen you want to take everything that’s outside and put it in. Stella knew you had to find it within – the organic truth and then let it come out. But that means that you have to have the guts to go deep. To understand that Tennessee Williams for instance was a smart, complex, complicated, bright, sad, dark man who understood the nature of irreciprocal love. She made you completely study the playwright. She made you selfless I think, as an actor. And she would give me little guidelines that I’ve carried with me all my life. An entrance. An exit.
(Kate gets up from the bed and walks towards the wings.) You know in every play that you ever do there’s a moment that you have to look out the window, right. We’ve all seen that reaction, right. (Kate leans tentatively towards the wings – looking ‘out the window’). She said “Why are you doing that?” I said “What?” I said “I’m watching that person…” She said “You’re watching that person what?” I said “Go.” She said “What does that make it? Nothing. You’re watching that person go.” This gets to me - I have such a clear memory of this. She said “It’s snowing outside. It’s icy cold. He’s the love of your life. And he left behind his overcoat.” And then I watched him go…And she made me see. Do you understand? That’s watching. That’s seeing. And she did the same thing with an entrance. Just a little… she said “Always have something backstage. Always what you’re doing.” (Kate walks towards the wings and just off stage) Don’t (she marches on stage) walk on stage. What’s that? Right. We’re in the army now. (She goes off again) No. I mean do something, right? (She comes back on in a much more interesting manner – looking back a couple of times, etc.) Already it’s more interesting, right? That’s what she always… you have to fill it, every moment it has to be full of the texture and the reality of not only the character but of the playwright to whom she was dedicated.
So my time with Stella was profound. She changed my life. I think she’s allowed me to survive in Hollywood, a place which is not a natural for me. In fact she warned me against it. Several times. And said, in no uncertain terms “Don’t skate into television.” I think she felt very strongly that had I really toughed it out I would have had a dangerous and marvelous life in theatre which I have had had at the same time, but it’s been an eclectic career and much of it has been in film.
But I think, I think that the memory that will always stay in my heart is the opening night of “Hedda Gabler” here at the Doolittle Theatre. Hedda was one hell of a role to bite off and attempt to chew. I threw up that night before I went on stage. That was a first. Three times. I kept going like this to the stage manager (Kate mimes holding up her hand in a stop sign and then bending over to throw up). And I did it. And I came out – Irene were you with her that night? She came with somebody. (Off stage Irene answers “Probably”) She mouthed the entire role as I did it. Quietly. To the person next to her. Right. Each thing I did, she did at the same time, simultaneously. And when the night was over, she stood in the lobby – she was so regal. And I came up to her. And she put her hand on my cheek and she said “Now you understand.” (Kate puts her hand over her heart.) And I did.
So the gifts are manifold and marvelous. It was the gift of a person that has so enlightened me. She cannot die. I was saying this to Irene before I came in. I’ve only known a couple of people like that in my life. She was too big. She was too grand. She fully understood and practiced the epic nature of life. And she gave that to her students. And for those of us who were blessed enough to be in her realm I think that there’s a legacy unspeakable and inexpressible in its dimension that we carry on. It is the great passion of this craft and the honor of this craft that she gave me.
So. Here I am, twenty-seven years later. I’ve been acting for twenty-seven years (Kate falls back on the bed in reaction to her statement)! And I have loved almost all of it. I have found the last few years on ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ very challenging. Episodic television is a grind. It’s tough. It’s fifteen hours a day. This genre of science fiction, I don’t know if any of you watch ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, is highly stylized, rather rigid. It’s entirely up to me to endow this character with nuance, subtlety, humanity, humor. So it’s a constant challenge. I have been very honored and privileged to play the first female captain in the history of Star Trek. And I have tried, again this is a salute to Stella, to every day greet the challenge with a new attitude, new hope, kindness and courage. I have tried to give Captain Janeway passion and chops. That’s something to remember. But I am, and I will be very honest in saying this, very much looking to returning to the theatre when this is over which it will be next April. And then I will go back to New York City – I’m going to leave Hollywood and move back to New York City and return to the theatre and hope that it will still have me. And… that’s pretty good, isn’t it, twenty-seven years later?
Do any of you have any questions, which I’d love to answer if you do.
Q: You mentioned that you’d like to return to theatre in New York. Are there any specific roles that you….
KM: Yah. I’ve had a couple of offers right now. I love Harold Pinter. So I may go to ACT, which is the San Francisco American Conservatory Theatre and do “Trail” by Harold Pinter first. Or I may do “Amy’s View”, I’m not sure. But in New York itself I think it’s smarter for me to get my feet wet regionally first and then see what’s going on in the city. So that’s what’s going to happen. “Trail” first. Yes?
Q: When you started what kind of role…. can I ask you several questions?
Q: Star Trek… in fact I live in Ohio I just thought of it…
KM: Where are you from in Ohio?
Q: Well, upstate several miles south of Cleveland.
KM: Uh huh. My husband lives in Cleveland. Have you seen him?!
Q: But the thing is… there are … supporters of the Star Trek genre and that series. A whole lot of Americans love that series. And my first question is, when you first started out did you get an agent who was pretty good at getting you series roles ( … ) now once you got that series did you then hire a personal manager and a publicist did you like a lot of publicity, vis a vis the soaps… do you like the fanfare, do you get fan mail letters? So those two questions there… also…
KM: All right! Why don’t I try to answer one at a time? Shall I? Let’s answer the agent question first. That’s the toughest thing of all, getting the agent. How many of you are actors in this room? (Kate has made her way back across the stage towards the bed. She notes the response of the audience). Sit back down on that one.
I lied to get my first agent. I was really struggling in New York City. I was training at Stella’s. I was waiting tables. My father did not give me any money, right. Nor had he ever, so it was hard work trying to make a buck and survive. And against Stella’s wishes I was pursuing an agent outside because I wanted to work. She wanted me to complete the entire program which was I guess four years and I was anxious to get on with my life which we all are when we are seventeen. So I did then what I have never regretted. I lied and I cheated. I got the trades and I found out who the top five agents were. Not the big guys, but the boutique guys. The top five boutique guys. And Stark Hasseltine was at the top of that list. In those days it was called Hasseltine Baker. I sat down – I first went out and got my pictures, my resumé – the resumé was absurd (Kate laughs and falls backward onto the bed) – ah yesss “Cleopatra… I found out where they were, and I went to Stark Hasseltine’s office, and I went up to the receptionist (she stands up and acts this out as she describes the scene) and I gave her my pictures and my resumé and I said “I’m Kate Mulgrew, Mr. Hasseltine is expecting me we have an appointment at ten o’clock.” “Really? You’re not on the list.” I said “You know, he warned me about that. We met at a party in East Hampton and he said look at - I may not get this back to my secretary, so just tell her it was at the party in East Hampton.” I found out he had a house in East Hampton. “All right honey, just a minute.” She goes back. Fifteen minutes later Stark Hasseltine walks out and he looked at me and he said “Kate, how nice to see you. Come back (she makes a come here gesture). We walk back into the office and I said “I.. I..” And he said “Don’t say one word. You will never lie to me again.” I said “I promise.” He said “Lookit’ I want you to get two things together, a comedy piece and a classical piece and come back tomorrow and do it for the agency and we’ll see if we vote you in or not.” So I did, and they did. And two weeks later, two weeks later I went up my five story walk up on East End Avenue, with all my homemade furniture that I got from orange crates an old thing where you put the table on the bathtub in the kitchen. I mean bad. I’m sitting on my little makeshift bed and the phone rang. “Kate, this is Stark, are you sitting down?” I said “Yah I am.” He said “Well, you’re going to be a busy girl. During the day you’ll will be shooting a new serial called “Ryan’s Hope” and you’ll be playing the heroine Mary Ryan and at five o’clock the car will pick you up to take you to Stratford where you have just been chosen as Emily in “Our Town”. (Kate gets down on her knees and folds her hands as if in a prayer of thanks!) That’s a moment I will never forget.
So my advice to you about agents: lie, cheat, steal and kill. They’re just agents. They’re not… you know… they’re kind of like bankers. They’re there to help you. You’re the artist and never forget it. And you’re doing them a favor in the long run.
So, did that answer your question? And the rest of it, publicity and managers. I just think it’s a lot of folderol. I’m not a movie star, I’m an actress. There’s a difference, you know. Who else has a question? Yes?
| [HOME] | [ARTICLES] | [BIO] | [CON REPORTS] | [FILMOGRAPHY] | [TV INTERVIEWS] | [PHOTOS] | [LINKS] | [ODDS 'N ENDS] |