Welcome to Michael’s Essays On Acting Page
“The debate about acting has gone on for eons; and most likely began when cavemen
first discovered hand shadow theatre; the same day as fire; and debated the
believability of the ‘five finger hand bunny’.
The Web would seem to be a valuable forum for this, avoiding the inevitable physical
‘clubbing to death’ of our detractors. I think the caveman’s first words might have been
‘works for me!’ and the second words were ‘That Should Be Me Up There!’”
Essays On Acting
I don’t read many books about Acting but I like Essays. Essays seem to give a particular
point of view about acting which is easy to digest and absorb into the many facets of the
actors psyche to enable him to encompass it or not as he chooses in his armoury of
hidden skills which is usually referred to as ‘The Craft’.
Complete books seem to me to be an all encompassing doctrine which are intended
quite often to be absorbed as a whole into the actors digestive system for complete
consumption, but unfortunately with me this approach seems to stick there more often
than not and I seem to psychologically jam up; a bit like a boa constrictor sleeping for
several days while it digests an entire bovine meal.
This is a particular symptom of the Hollywood acting teaching industry, where the ‘cult’
teacher is the norm; where a particular teacher; often well intentioned; who is lucky
enough to have a student attend his classes for a period of time and then go on to
major stardom will write a book.
The book quickly becomes a bible; but usually refers mainly to a series of class
exercises which seem to me to only tamper with the externalities of performing;
something to create an impression and get a big role and will often hamper rather than
assist the process of convincing emotional expression in a role. Actors who come to
Hollywood expect to get Professional Roles; yea Demand to get work and this approach
seems to pander to that need.
Audiences of any culture are not stupid. They often know that they are being ‘duped’
but enjoy it nevertheless; but when the genuine article is presented to them it shines
like a precious stone and they recognise it; like a diamond in the dirt and respond
accordingly. That’s what actors should really strive for.
The difficulty with the Professional actor is that there is always financial pressures on
him. The pressure to pay the rent; to pay his union dues; pay for tuition, to show his
sceptical family that he can be financially independent and so on. And even when they
have achieved a level of success there is the pressure to stay there. Not to take lesser
roles; to maintain their ‘current lifestyle’ and so forth; it’s endless; and emotionally
Ironically; the amateur actor doesn’t have those difficulties and can quite easily take a
chance. The worst he can do is ‘look foolish’ in front of his friends; and often, to the
surprise of one and all, succeeds beyond his wildest imaginings. Of course there is little
in the way of ‘craft’ there but who cares; It’s not rocket science anyway.
So what to read? I have maybe read three books which meant anything to me.
The first is AN ACTOR PREPARES by Konstantin Stanislavski.
Well of course I hear you say; but let me tell you why. Yes he led the way to
‘the method’ but what is more important is that he was truly the first to explore the
problems of emotional expression for the actor; To actually make notes about his
personal difficulties with roles and set in motion a process to overcome these difficulties.
Stanislavski didn’t completely succeed however; for instance he eventually lost faith in
the ability to control emotional memory and create it at will and in the context of the
playwright’s words; but he made most of the great discoveries of the actor’s ‘craft’;
without entirely making the process of emotional creativity practical.
The second book is A DREAM OF PASSION by Lee Strasberg.
This book documents some of the major contributions made at the Group Theatre in
America in the 30’s; but mainly it traces the incredible intellect of the author; Singularly
the most knowledgeable mind in relation to artistic matters to emerge in the 20th Century.
Above all Strasberg solved many of the problems that Stanislavski couldn’t. He created
exercises in relaxation, concentration, imagination, sense memory and Emotional
memory that could be used in the practical expression of a role in a play night after
night. He also discovered the Song and Dance exercise, which with the will and
control of the Actor resolves the difficulties of the art of the simplicity of his true
The book, I believe, has been heavily edited since his death and seems to be a bit
disjointed but stick with it. The title is also misleading. It’s nothing to do with ‘Dreams’.
The third is A RESPECT FOR ACTING by Uta Hagen.
This is like the ‘handbook’ you get with a new car. It’s heavy on information and thin on
theory; but immensely readable and full of useful advice about how to include many of
the theories of Stanislavski/Strasberg into the actors day to day work; For example
how to move the ‘fourth wall’ to wherever it will be of best use to the Actor in the
performing of his role; and not just have it where the stage ends and the audience
Here are also some useful passages from contributions about acting which make
interesting reading. I’ll call it INTIMATE WITH STRANGERS because that is how it feels
to me personally when playing a role at it’s most intense moments.