A few weeks ago, a client asked me if I had any book suggestions on the subject of acting. Specifically, they wanted a good “how to” manual, a one-stop-shop for the beginner actor. I did have suggestions, lots of suggestions. What surprised me was that these books were all still in my head from my college days, yet, despite the impact they had clearly made on me, I had trouble remembering much of their content. I could see the book covers in my mind, knew their titles and authors without much mental searching but, what they actually had to say was now largely absent. I gave my client the lengthy list and promised to go peruse through the titles again and get back to them with a more refined inventory, which I did that evening.
The next morning, while eating breakfast, I picked up one of the titles and started to read it from the beginning, and continued to do so for the entire day. Over the course of the next several weeks, I reread the bulk of the titles I’d suggested to my client. I say reread but as I did this so little of the information came back to me from my prior readings. There was a wealth of acting knowledge in the pages of these respective books that I had simply forgotten over time. This got me thinking about my own education as an actor. For many of us there is, I believe, a tendency to stop learning once our formal education is finished. Of course, there’s the on-the-job training of performing in plays or being on set for a film or commercial. One will, without a doubt, learn a great deal from their director or their fellow actor(s). Still, I do not think that is enough. My recent experience with my old books has taught me that much.
We actors must also always be students, and never allow our egos or our occasional idleness to pull us away from this other important role. Some knowledge stays in our brains forever, which is wonderful, yet, there is much that if left unattended, will lapse into distant memory and the tools of our craft are lessened as a result. It is our responsibility to continuously flex our memory and pad it with new useful information each day. The responsibility is not just to ourselves but also to our acting partners. We must strive to be our best so that others may be their best too. We will always encounter great challenges in our acting careers. A character we’ve been cast as may not make any sense to us. A scene, even after weeks of rehearsals, may still not feel quite right. Our mindfulness on stage or set may sometimes wane. These challenges are part of the actor’s life. How we deal with these and other related issues can, thankfully, be greatly aided by our education and intellect. So, I say let us all strive to be back at 101. Let us take a lesson from the Tibetan Buddhists and approach our craft with a beginner’s mind, open to all the knowledge of those great teachers and performers who came before us.
Below I’ve compiled (in no particular order, and by no means definitive) a short list of titles and videos that I have found helpful in my acting education. Some may be right for you and others not. For me, no one book provides all the answers I seek as an actor. The answers are located here, there, and everywhere. We should take what we find useful and store it tightly in our brains. It is there that we can create an ever-adapting algorithm that we will use when the time, the play, the scene calls for it. Happy studying!
1. Theatre by David Mamet
2. True and False by David Mamet
3. Acting Without Agony by Don Richardson
4. An Improvised Life by Alan Arkin
5. Sandford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner
6. The Art of Film Acting by Jeremiah Comey
7. The Art of Acting by Stella Adler
8. Acting in Film by Michael Caine
9. Uta Hagen’s Masterclass (video)
10. Michael Caine’s Masterclass (video)
11. An Introduction to the Alexander Technique (video)