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Estelle Parsons in August: Osage County. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Questions of Practice: Estelle Parsons on Artistic Practice

Questions of Practice: Estelle Parsons on Artistic Practice

In this clip, Estelle Parsons talks about the “vivid moments of grotesquerie” in her performances in Bonnie and Clyde and August: Osage County, as well as her belief that life is richest for actors who give themselves fully and follow language wherever it takes them

While in Philadelphia to perform August: Osage County in April 2010, Academy Award-winning actress Estelle Parsons met with local theater professionals at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to talk about acting. Abigail Adams, artistic director of People’s Light & Theatre Company, moderated the discussion.

After a question from moderator Abigail Adams, Ms. Parsons describes the history and purpose of the Actors Studio, a “gym” for professional actors where they can work on classics or experiment with new forms of their choosing and have the work critiqued by leading directors. The famed Group Theatre led to the founding of the Actors Studio, and Ms. Parsons talks about the major players within each organization, focusing particularly on Lee Strasberg and his skill in training actors.

The lively Ms. Parsons talked about her fear as she stepped into this Broadway hit, as well as her discoveries about the foolproof nature of August: Osage County. She described her history as a young actress giving wildly inconsistent performances, a practice brought into check by her membership at the Actors Studio, an organization that she led as Artistic Director decades later. She detailed the history of the Group Theater and the profound teaching gifts of one of its inspiring, if controversial, founders, Lee Strasberg. Stating that her real interest is in “exploiting [her] one opportunity of being alive,” she revealed herself to be not only a scholar of American theater but an eternal student of humanity.

In playing sharp-tongued matriarch Violet Weston in Tracy Letts’ play August Osage County, actress Estelle Parsons has discovered that the play “always works.” In this clip, Ms. Parsons likens the play to a revue sketch, where an actor can “get out there, say the lines loud and clear, and act as if you know what you’re talking about, and it works.”