When the Stella Adler Studio of Acting was founded in New York City in 1949, it was done so around Adler’s personal philosophy on her craft: “Growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous.” It was the philosophy Adler used in teaching some of her most famous students, including Marlon Brando, Elaine Stritch, and Robert De Niro; and it’s the same philosophy that governs the way in which Adler’s grandson, Artistic Director Tom Oppenheim, continues to run the studio to this day.
With this philosophy in mind, the Studio is embarking on a massive rebranding as the Stella Adler Center for the Arts, a center for social justice and the humanities in New York—beginning with a multi-million dollar move from its original home at 31 West 27th Street to its expansive new space in the American Express building at 65 Broadway.
“That we found ourselves in lower Manhattan between Trinity Church and Battery Park has been wonderful,” says Oppenheim. “The neighborhood possesses both a grittiness and a worldliness that feels like a New York City of old, one in which a cultural center is well situated.”
The organization’s new home boasts approximately 30,000 square feet of space (increased from the former location’s 20,000), carefully designed to serve its entire community as both an intimate acting conservatory and a warm, welcoming destination for audiences.
“I love that we were able to imagine a space that successfully serves all of our constituents,” says Nina Capelli, Director of Cultural Programming. “Moving to 65 Broadway gave us a chance to re-evaluate ourselves as an organization. When the studio moved to its former space on 27th Street it was primarily a training center. But in the 20 years that it spent there, the organization evolved and grew into a cultural center. Now that we welcome audiences more than 100 days out of each year, we were able to design a space that greets and serves them with more ease and accessibility.”
“The whole project helped to deepen our relationship with the organization's ideals,” Capelli adds.
The new space offers four black box theatres in which performances, rehearsals, and classes run concurrently. A front-facing lobby and waiting area greets audience members, the walls lined with production photos from the Studio’s past seasons as well as historical imagery from Adler’s life and career.
Turning the corner of the space’s long hallways, students are greeted with inspirational messages which speak to the Studio’s core philosophy before arriving in the “backstage” hallway. Here, students can find production and administrative offices, a new scene shop and costume shop, and numerous classrooms and rehearsal studios—including the Elaine Stritch studio, named for the late actress/alumnus and decorated with hundreds of one-of-a-kind photos, letters, notes, and memorabilia from Stritch’s career. One small, handwritten message simply reads, “Dearest Stritch . . . YES,” signed with a first name only from actress Janet Leigh.
A second, lower floor features a new student lounge, its walls inscribed with meaningful quotes in students’ handwriting, as well as several more classrooms and work spaces. One of the larger studios features a worn, aging baby grand piano, originally the property of prolific director Hal Prince.
This year’s incoming class marks the first who will have spent the entirety of their Studio education at the new space. Others who are already in the midst of their training are adjusting to their new home, and the change has been immediately noticeable. “The first time I walked into the new space I said, ‘This is the space that Stella Adler deserves,’” says Caitlyn McCain, a faculty member and recent graduate. “I loved our old home, but 65 Broadway speaks to the quality of the work that Adler does on a daily basis. It is a blank canvas for every member of the Adler family to paint with their humanity!”
“In this new space, we have more room to spread out and really stretch our wings,” says Mary Walker, who studies at the Studio through New York University’s Tisch BFA program. “Every day when I enter the studio on the second floor, I see the words, “What Inspires You?” This encourages me to really pay attention to the little details in my everyday experience that I missed before. This daily practice of being aware of that which surrounds me helps not only to inspire but to strengthen me as an actor, an artist and just as an overall human being.”
As its community settles into its new home, the Studio will continue its rebranding as a true center for culture and social justice. Between its academic programs, its slate of performances, and its renowned community outreach programs, the Studio now serves over 16,000 people every year; these include hundreds of formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, with whom the Studio interacts via drama programs for inmates at correctional facilities like Riker’s Island.
“I really appreciate the fact that the Stella Adler Studio emphasizes the importance of all humanity,” says Suzy Petcheam, Director of Outreach Field Programs. “It teaches us to think about others before we think of ourselves. Acting can be a very self-serving thing. But opening minds to the idea that theater can not only heal, but also save lives is incredibly important to me. I find the very thought to be utterly inspiring and to give me hope when I am confronted by all the challenges and heartache in the world.”
Flip through photos from Playbill's tour of the new space below: