The Playgoer: Lessac the Man

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lessac the Man

Things I learned from this weekend's NYT obituary of Arthur Lessac, the man behind the technique:

- He was not only still alive until April 7, he was 101 years old.

- He was a Jew born in Palestine, in 1909. (That's Ottoman Palestine, even before the British "Mandate.")

- His real name wasn't Lessac and still nobody knows what it really was. ("Throughout his adult life, he neither used nor mentioned it. He had no wish, his family said, to utter the name of the parents who had left him to his own devices when he was very young")

- He took the name Lessac from a Coney Island family he briefly lived with as a child when not upstate at the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society Orphan Asylum in Pleasantville, NY.

- He was heavily involved in the labor theatre scene of the 1930s, including serving as vocal coach for the legendary Pins and Needles revue and singing in a quartet with Paul Robeson. He taught at Stella Adler's studio, but broke with Elia Kazan in the fifties over his collaboration with the Blacklist.

- He also taught voice to rabbinical students at Jewish Theological Seminary.

- Finally, as to his signature training philosophy itself:
His method, Lessac Kinesensic Training, is a holistic, almost spiritual approach encompassing speech, singing and movement. Acutely concerned with sensation, the method teaches people to feel the vibrations of their own voices as they speak or sing. In doing so, it makes them aware of the bodily systems that work in concert to produce a voice pleasurable to speaker and hearer.

Mr. Lessac’s two books, “The Use and Training of the Human Voice” and “Body Wisdom: The Use and Training of the Human Body,” are assigned in drama programs throughout the country. Today, his work is carried on by the Lessac Training & Research Institute, which conducts workshops and teacher-training programs. 
What's your experience with Lessac?  Do you recommend his technique to young actors today?

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