How To Further Your Acting To The Next Level
Pretty soon after starting acting, one gets the feeling that instructors and actors have different ideas, techniques and processes to reach to the ultimate goal of being “Truthful under imaginary circumstances”. Techniques and approaches sometimes appear to be in conflict with each other, “Meisner vs Method”, “being in the moment vs ensuring that each beat is the same while working on film”. At the end of the day it is the actor’s job -and that means you- to figure what works best for him or herself. The list below is a small compendium of books that in one way or another have been very influential in my career.
Meisner on Acting by Sandford Meisner – Sanford Meisner was one of the best known and beloved teachers of acting in the country. This book follows one of his acting classes for fifteen months, beginning with the most rudimentary exercises and ending with affecting and polished scenes from contemporary American plays. Written in collaboration with Dennis Longwell, it is essential reading for beginning and professional actors alike. Throughout these pages Meisner is a delight—always empathizing with his students and urging them onward, provoking emotion, laughter, and growing technical mastery from his charges.
“The Actor’s Art and Craft: William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique” by William Esper, Damon Dimarco – William Esper, one of the leading acting teachers of our time, explains and extends Sanford Meisner’s legendary technique, offering a clear, concrete, step-by-step approach to becoming a truly creative actor. Esper worked closely with Meisner for seventeen years and has spent decades developing his famous program for actor’s training. The result is a rigorous system of exercises that builds a solid foundation of acting skills from the ground up, and that is flexible enough to be applied to any challenge an actor faces, from soap operas to Shakespeare
“Respect for Acting” by Uta Hagen – in this book the author presents practical exercises to help the actor be grounded and be present moment to moment.
“An Actor Prepares” by Constantin Stanislavsky – “An Actor Prepares” is a 1936 guide to acting by Konstantin Stanislavski. Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski (1863 – 1938) was an influential Russian theatre practitioner. He was himself a highly-esteemed character actor and directed many successful productions. However, he is most famous for his ‘system’ of learning to act, focusing on training, preparation, and technique. This was the first of Stanislavski’s book on acting. Concentrating on preparation, it offers the aspiring actor or actress tips and instructions on how they should prepare for performances.
“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron – The program begins with Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a “Creative Cluster” of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors. A revolutionary program for personal renewal, The Artist’s Way will help get you back on track, rediscover your passions, and take the steps you need to change your life.
“The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael A. Singer – This book is not for everyone. For that moment of your life, when you feel stuck; when you feel unable to determine the next step, open this book and let it guide you. A mandatory requirement is to have an open mind, and let it’s word touch your soul.
“Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within” by Natalie Goldberg – With insight, humor, and practicality, Natalie Goldberg inspires writers and would-be writers to take the leap into writing skillfully and creatively. She offers suggestions, encouragement, and solid advice on many aspects of the writer’s craft: on writing from “first thoughts” (keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, just get it on paper), on listening (writing is ninety percent listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write), on using verbs (verbs provide the energy of the sentence), on overcoming doubts (doubt is torture; don’t listen to it)—even on choosing a restaurant in which to write.
“Zen in the Art of Archery” – by Eugen Herrigel – A classic work on Eastern philosophy, Zen in the Art of Archery is a charming and deeply illuminating story of one man’s experience with Zen. Eugen Herrigel, a German professor of Philosophy in Tokyo, took up the study of archery as a step toward an understanding of Zen Buddhism. This book is the account of the six years he spent as a student of one of Japan’s great kyudo (archery) masters, and of how he gradually overcame his initial inhibitions and began to feel his way toward new truths and ways of seeing.
The following are books that focus on specifics tactics or help solve specific problems. They don’t “teach” acting but are valuable to help unblock creativity or help tackle specific challenges when working on material.
“Backwards Forwards: a Technical Manual for Reading Plays” by David Ball – This book presents the reader with techniques to discover hard to find clues present in plays. Actors interested in seeking a deeper knowledge of the relations between the characters in the play will find the techniques very useful.
“Playing Shakespeare: An Actor’s Guide” by John Barton – Together with Royal Shakespeare Company actors–among them Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley, and David Suchet–John Barton demonstrates how to adapt Elizabethan theater for the modern stage. The director begins by explicating Shakespeare’s verse and prose, speeches and soliloquies, and naturalistic and heightened language to discover the essence of his characters. In the second section, Barton and the actors explore nuance in Shakespearean theater, from evoking irony and ambiguity and striking the delicate balance of passion and profound intellectual thought, to finding new approaches to playing Shakespeare’s most controversial creation, Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice.