- ‘An Actor Prepares’ by Constantin Stanislavski
Because I'm usually immersed in web stuff, it's interesting to read a text whose ideas are still relevant to its target profession 70 years on. It was mostly a more enjoyable read than I expected -- it's written as if by a student of acting, reporting on a year of training. It makes clear how much more there can be to acting than just "pretending to be someone else". Unfortunately I kind of lost it around two-thirds of the way through, when he starts talking about transmitting "rays" to each other, and things get a bit hazy and repetitive. Maybe that stuff makes more sense when the preceding chapters have been properly absorbed and used. (Also see my notes on Sanford Meisner on Acting and Uta Hagen's Respect for Acting.)
- ‘Respect for Acting’ by Uta Hagen
I made these notes last summer, but it's taken me nine months to get round to typing them up. My notes on Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares seem to be useful to plenty of people, so maybe these will too. Hagen's book was the only required read for my Foundation acting course at the City Lit, and we've had to do some of the solo exercises she describes.
- ‘Sanford Meisner on Acting’
We did a bit of Meisner in my acting classes but it wasn't doing much for me. I'd heard it could be very effective so I read the book to find out what wasn't working. It's a good read. Like Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares it describes Meisner teaching students, which is an effective and enjoyable way to deliver ideas (the only difference being Stanislavski's was narrated by a student, while Meisner's is described by a neutral observer). Meisner is all about being truthful -- stop acting, stop being polite, and start doing what feels honest. Inspiring stuff, but I need to do it rather than just reading about it for it to sink in...
- ‘True and False’ by David Mamet
This was a blast after reading drier, technique-based books on acting. It's a rant, as if Mamet got back from a bad rehearsal with amateurs, got pissed, and hammered away for 120 pages. His view of an actor is largely from the author's point of view; if an author does his job, the actor doesn't have to do much at all. A one paragraph summary would be:
You'll learn more by going on stage than you will by studying. Most acting teachers are frauds. The Method's techniques are worthless tools for amateurs. An actor must simply deliver the lines given by the author. And be brave.
- ‘A Whore’s Profession’ by David Mamet
This is a collection of other collections of essays on a variety of subjects. There is quite a lot of stuff early on in which Mamet recalls his childhood and early career in Chicago and New York. But the essays on acting, writing and directing interested me most, and these are what I took occasional notes on. Although, as he says, his thoughts on directing came after directing only two movies, at which point he thought he knew it all, but didn’t know how much he didn’t know.