"It became clear that I must learn to enlarge the conception I had of myself, to gain a truer understanding of who I really am, if I wanted to be truly available for the many parts I hoped to bring to life.
"Since my self perception was so lopsided with admirable qualities, it became obvious why I was unable to find true identification with the roles I played. I had to be honest with my self in order to recognize the arrogance, ruthlessness, deceit, envy, and selfishness of which I was capable under certain circumstances. I could no longer refuse to examine any stupidities, neurotic impulses, fears and ambiguities--in other words, the negative as well as the positive qualities that exist in me, as well as other human beings.
Whenever I criticize students who feel compelled to indicate [instead of really doing]a character's actions, who comment [to judge it while you do it] on the actions, rather than really executing them because they've been unable to justify [to find the reason why you do it]them, I invariably get the same answers I used to make: "But I'm not like that." "But I would never do that." "I'm not shy." "I'm not bossy." "I'm never silly."
Then when I ask them to remember a high school prom at which their slip was showing or when they spilled something on their gown or when they had a pimple on their nose, they look down at the floor, sometimes even blushing, and they are shy. I remind them that when they confront a colleague about their right to the rehearsal space they are bossy and that when they make cooing sounds and talk baby talk to their pets they are silly. When I am with a scientist or even an electrician I am stupid, even though my cliche self image tells me I am brilliant. If a bigoted doorman spouts racist opinions, I pull rank; I behave like a snob, even though I think of myself as the original liberal humanist. I believe I'm incapable of cowardice, yet the sight of a mouse sends me into hysterics. It soon becomes clear that basic components of the characters we will play are somewhere within ourselves.
Self discovery never ceases. I made another breakthrough when I realized that whenever I behaved badly, usually when frustrated in the fulfillment of my wishes, I had given myself consciously or subconsciously--a justification for my actions. I was always in the right. Guilt, or the recognition of cruelty, insensitivity or manipulation almost always comes after the fact. This learning process doesn't necessarily make you a wiser or better behaved person--just a better actor.
Creativity depends on maintaining innocence and a never-ending curiosity about the human condition.
Uta Hagen, Respect for Acting
copyright 1973 This quote used for educational purposes only.
Uta Hagen Class:
Theoretically, the actor ought to be more sound in mind and body than other people, since he learns to understand the psychological problems of human beings when putting his own passions, his loves, fears, and rages to work in the service of the characters he plays. He will learn to face himself, to hide nothing from himself--and to do so takes an INSATIABLE CURIOSITY ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION.
It takes a SOUND BODY, as well developed and cared for as that of an athlete. It takes a TRAINED VOICE, as flexible as that of a singer, and FINE STANDARD SPEECH which must be developed for use in all the dramatic literature that makes greater demands on him than the regional speech with which he began his life.
When a God given or genetically inherited talent exists, the would-be actor must face the fact that it is of little use without the TENACITY AND DISCIPLINE it takes to make something of the talent.
To be more than an adequate or serviceable actor, it takes a BROAD EDUCATION in the liberal arts. If this has not been provided for, remember that once you can read, you can educate yourself in the understanding of human beings and the social conditions under which man has struggled throughout history by reading not just dramatic literature, but also masters of the novel and the endless biographies that substantiate faith in the realities of the past. Your feet can take you to museums, galleries, libraries, theaters, concerts, and dance performances. Your need for enlightenment will increase as you realize the ways in which these sources stimulate your own creative drives."
excerpted from A CHALLENGE FOR THE ACTOR
by Uta Hagen
Bonus interview: This is a portion of an interview from 1995 when Uta discussed the difference between her books Respect for Acting and A Challenge for the Actor.
Billy Rose Theatre Division
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts New York, New York
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Billy Rose Theatre Division
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Web address: http://www.nypl.org/research/lpa/the/the.html
Processed and encoded through a gift from Robert W. Wilson.
© 2008 The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. All rights reserved.
Abstract: The Uta Hagen/Herbert Berghof papers document the lives and careers of actress, master teacher, and author Uta Hagen and her husband--actor, director, and master teacher Herbert Berghof. The papers consist of correspondence, personal and family papers, diaries, scripts and manuscripts, production materials, blueprints, photographs, scrapbooks, posters, clippings, ephemera, and oversized material. There are also a number of papers relating to the HB Studio and HB Playwrights Foundation, the school and developmental theater founded by Berghof.
Administrative Information Access
Collection is open to the public. Library policy on photocopying will apply. Advance notice may be required.
For permission to publish, contact the Curator, Billy Rose Theatre Division.
Uta Hagen/Herbert Berghof Papers, Collection ID *T-Mss 2007-001, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The Uta Hagen/Herbert Berghof Papers, bequest of Uta Hagen Berghof, were donated to the Billy Rose Theatre Division in 2007.
The collection was processed and cataloged in 2008.
Uta Hagen/Herbert Berghof Papers
Hagen, Uta and Berghof, Herbert
49 linear feet ( 99 boxes)
Billy Rose Theatre Division.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Legendary actress, teacher, and author Uta Thyra Hagen was born on June 12, 1919 in Göttingen, Germany the second child of Oskar and Thyra Leisner Hagen. (Her brother Holger, was several years older.) Her father had begun the Handel Opera Festival in Göttingen and her mother was a Danish opera singer and teacher. In 1924, the family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where Oskar Hagen founded the art history department. However, the Hagens continued to travel to Europe in the summers.
Hagen grew up in Madison and attended public schools there. Determined to be an actress from an early age, she performed in school plays and read the works of playwrights such as Shakespeare, Goethe, and Moliere. After her graduation from Wisconsin High School (of the University of Wisconsin) in 1936, Hagen attended London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for one semester. Also around this time, Hagen attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) for one term.
In 1937, Hagen wrote to Eva Le Gallienne requesting an audition, and won her first professional role as Ophelia in Le Gallienne’s production of Hamlet at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts. In 1938, Hagen played Nina in a Broadway revival of The Sea Gull starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The same year marked the death of Hagen’s mother, as well as Hagen’s marriage to actor and director José Ferrer on December 8, 1938.
The two were married until 1948 and had one daughter Leticia (“Letty”) in 1940. They appeared in several productions together, most notably the Theatre Guild production of Othello with Paul Robeson, on Broadway and on tour (1942-1945). Although courted by Hollywood studios, the couple declined to appear in films. (Hagen made her film debut in The Other in 1972.) In 1947, Hagen appeared in The Whole World Over, directed by Harold Clurman. During this production, she met Herbert Berghof when he replaced the romantic lead. Hagen also began teaching acting at Berghof’s studio that same year.
The 1948 production of Angel Street with José Ferrer at City Center (their last show together) garnered Hagen her longtime agent, Lucy Kroll; also, after seeing Hagen in this production, Elia Kazan hired her to replace Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway during Tandy’s summer vacation. Hagen also took the show on tour with Anthony Quinn and then back to Broadway, followed by another tour (1948-1950).
Hagen originated the role of Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl, written and directed by Clifford Odets (also starring Paul Kelly and Steven Hill) (1950), winning her first Tony Award in 1951, although this award is not included in the papers. Later in 1951, Hagen returned to Broadway in the title role of the Theatre Guild’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. Other productions during the 1950s included Tovarich at City Center with Herbert Berghof and Luther Adler (1952), In Any Language, directed by George Abbott and featuring Walter Matthau and Eileen Heckart
Hagen’s liberal political views and activities caused her to be blacklisted from television for most of the 1950s and subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. However, she was spared from having to appear when her accuser was convicted of perjury.
Having begun a personal relationship with Herbert Berghof, the two were married on January 25, 1957 and remained so until Berghof’s death in 1990. They lived in Greenwich Village and had a home in Montauk, Long Island. During the 1950s, their professional activities became increasingly intertwined. The couple adapted, produced, and performed together works such as Cyprienne with Robert Culp (1955), The Daily Life by Rainer Maria Rilke (1955), and The Queen and the Rebels by Ugo Betti (1959). They also toured in stock with productions of The Play’s the Thing (1952), The Lady’s Not for Burning (1953), and The Affairs of Anatol (1957), all the while solidifying their international reputations as master teachers.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? marked Hagen’s triumphant return to Broadway in 1962, earning her second Tony Award in 1963. She also performed in the London production in 1964. In celebration of her 80th birthday, Hagen recreated the role of Martha in benefit readings at the Majestic Theatre (1999) and at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles (2000). Her subsequent Broadway appearances included APA-Phoenix Repertory’s production of The Cherry Orchard, directed by Eva Le Gallienne (1968), Charlotte by Peter Hacks, translated by Herbert Berghof and Hagen and directed by Berghof (1980), and You Never Can Tell for Circle in the Square Theatre (1986).
Hagen also appeared in the film The Boys from Brazil (1978) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and in Reversal of Fortune (1990). Her television appearances include One Life to Live (1986) and ABC Afterschool Specials – Seasonal Differences (1987); she received Daytime Emmy Award nominations for both.
Respect for Acting, written with Haskel Frankel, Hagen’s seminal text on acting, was published by Macmillan in 1973. A gourmet cook, she also wrote Love for Cooking (Macmillan, 1976). Hagen’s autobiographical work, Sources (Performing Arts Journal, 1983) was followed in 1991 by her definitive work on acting, A Challenge for the Actor (Scribner).
After Berghof’s death in 1990, Hagen became the head of HB Studio and HB Playwrights Foundation. She continued to perform throughout the 1990s and realized perhaps two of the most memorable roles of her later career in Nicholas Wright’s Mrs. Klein (1995) and in Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories (1998). Hagen won unanimous critical acclaim and awards and took both plays on tour. Hagen’s last stage production was Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks by Richard Alfieri at Los Angeles’ Geffen
Among Hagen’s numerous awards was her third Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999. She also was awarded a 2002 National Medal of Arts from President George Bush in 2003. She died at her home at the age of 84 on January 14, 2004.
---------------Actor, director, and master teacher, Herbert Berghof was born in Vienna, Austria to Paul and Regina (Sternberg) Berghof on September 13, 1909. He attended the University of Vienna and the Vienna State Academy of Dramatic Art where he received a diploma in 1927. For the next eleven years, Berghof played more than 120 roles in the leading theaters in Vienna, Berlin, Zurich, and Paris, including the Salzburg Festival production of Jedermann (Everyman) in 1937. He worked with actors such as Luise Rainer, Helene Thimig, Albert Bassermann, and Oscar Homolka and was directed by Max Reinhardt, Erwin Piscator, and Otto Preminger. Berghof was the founder of the Vienna Kleinkunstbuehne and was their director from 1993 to 1938. Perhaps his most notable production for this group was Kjeld Abel’s The Lost Melody (1938).
After fleeing the Nazis in 1938, Berghof immigrated to the United States in 1939. He found work as a teacher at Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research, and the Neighborhood Playhouse. In 1940, Berghof staged the musical revues From Vienna at the Music Box Theatre and Reunion in New York (also performing) at the Little Theatre; Lotte Goslar and Lothar Metzl also performed. Sometime after coming to the United States, Berghof married Alice Hermes, but the marriage ended in divorce (date uncertain).
Erwin Piscator cast him as The Fool in King Lear at the New School (1940) and Berghof appeared on Broadway in the title role of Nathan the Wise (Belasco Theatre, 1942). Berghof’s extensive Broadway appearances include The Innocent Voyage with Oscar Homolka (1943), The Man Who Had All the Luck (Arthur Miller’s first play on Broadway) (Forrest Theatre, 1944), Ghosts and Hedda Gabler with Eva Le Gallienne (Cort Theatre, 1948), Miss Liberty (Imperial Theatre, 1949), The Deep Blue Sea with Margaret Sullavan (Morosco Theatre, 1952), The Andersonville Trial (Henry Miller’s Theatre, 1959), and In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 1969). He also appeared in numerous stock productions such as Design for Living with Kitty Carlisle (1943) and The Guardsman with Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond, directed by Sam Wanamaker (1951).
He performed in many of the “Golden Age of Television” series in the 1950s, such as Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Philco Television Playhouse, and Playhouse 90. Berghof also appeared in Kojak: The Belarus File (1985). Movie appearances include Five Fingers (1952), Red Planet Mars (1952), Fraülein (1958), Cleopatra (1963), Harry and Tonto (1974), Those Lips, Those Eyes (1980), and Target (1985). Berghof also worked in radio, appearing in several of the Theatre Guild on the Air broadcasts in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
For almost three decades, Berghof also directed and developed dozens of productions and staged readings at HB Playwrights Foundation. He also translated and adapted numerous scripts for production, such as The Apollo of Bellac by Jean Giraudoux (1954), Rainer Maria Rilke’s Daily Life (ca.1954), Portuguese Letters, (1976), and Do I Know You? (An Improvisation on a Short Story by Robert Louis Stevenson), Berghof’s final project (1990).
Berghof had begun holding his own acting classes at a rented space on West 16th Street in 1945; by 1965, these classes would evolve into the HB Studio and HB Playwrights Foundation, now housed in three buildings on Bank Street, with an international reputation as one of the pre-eminent programs in the field. In 1947, Berghof was named a charter member of the Actors Studio, but broke with the studio because of philosophical differences. His future wife, Uta Hagen, also began teaching with him that year. Their philosophy was always to keep fees as low as possible (often causing financial difficulties) and to remain an experimental laboratory for new techniques.
Productions and play readings were also part of the program, from readings of works by Saul Bellow, Thornton Wilder, Horton Foote, and Bertolt Brecht, to a complete season of full productions and readings by the HB Playwrights Foundation, formed in 1965 and continuing to the present. Both students and seasoned actors performed in works by new and established playwrights.
HB Studio alumni include countless notables in theater, film, and television such as F. Murray Abraham, Anne Bancroft, Matthew Broderick, Billy Crystal, Robert De Niro, Robert Culp, Sandy Dennis, Lee Grant, David Hedison, Harvey Korman, Jack Lemmon, Anne Meara, Liza Minnelli, Geraldine Page, Charles Nelson Reilly, Maureen Stapleton, Jerry Stiller, Edward Villella, and Fritz Weaver, to name but a few. Berghof also taught at Columbia University in 1960 and for the American Theatre Wing in 1949.
He died at his home at the age of 81 of a heart ailment on November 5, 1990.
Scope and Content Note