Actor Gary Swanson Continues Montauk Art Theater

Steve Thornton

The Montauk Art Theater was founded in 2006 by actor, writer, and director Gary Swanson. It includes four or eight-week workshops that are held from July 1 to September 1, based on Lee Strasberg’s “method acting” and the Konstantin Stanislavski System.

Swanson’s mission is to preserve the original “method acting” concepts that have launched great stars like Marlon Brando, James Dean, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Alec Baldwin, Matthew McConaughey, and Bradley Cooper. Indy caught up with Swanson to learn more.

Tell us a little about your summer program and how it came about.

Instructions were inspired by the forefathers of The Method. Strasberg invariably said that he “stood on the shoulders of Stanislavski.” Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg met at The New School of Social Research in NYC, where they studied the Stanislavski System taught by Russian defectors of The Moscow Art Theater. In 1929 Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Strasberg invited the best actors in NYC to take a two-year sabbatical from the theater, and head upstate to an old farmhouse where Strasberg would train the American actors.

Strasberg and Clurman did exactly what they said they would do, and the eight-year run of the Group Theater changed the world. The concept of allowing NYC actors an opportunity to breathe clean air, stay out of subways, and work all day on the acting process, that was modeled from their dreams, was achieved.

What happens over the course of the workshops?

My format is derived out of the forefather’s books and formats set down by them. “An Actor Prepares” by Stanislavski lays out the basic technique. Richard Boleslavski’s “The First Six Lessons” is as alive today as it was in the 1930s.

Strasberg’s “A Dream Of Passion” and “The Strasberg Notes,” edited by Lola Cohen, describe the exercises, improvisation, and scene work. The four or eight-week workshop allows the actor to begin on a path of work that can be used in life, as well as on the stage.

Describe your creative process.

I no longer have to slave to find a character, analyze a script, or wonder how a scene should be “played.” As an actor, I now work intuitively: letting my subconscious lead me, then completely trusting that my relaxation will lead to illuminating the character that will hopefully reveal the story of the writer.

As a teacher, I also try to get out of my own way. I let the student inform me as to what they need, and then try to guide without muscle or forcing a result. It is one of my greatest satisfactions to watch a student I’ve worked with for two years who suddenly “lives” on the stage intuitively. Whenever that happens, I cannot tell anyone exactly how I influenced him or her. But somehow, we both have reached the oasis together.

To find out more about the summer workshops, visit

[email protected]

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