• Best aids for learning acting?

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  • I know you can't learn acting from a book alone, but I also know the right great text can help you learn anything. In the past I've heard these three books suggested as great acting tutorials: An Actor Prepares, by Stanislavski; Acting, The First Six Lessons, by Bolesllavsky, and Improv by Keith Johnson. Has anyone used these text with any success? Are there better ones to recommend?

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    Question by kevin kelly

Learning acting by reading books is analogous to learning tennis by reading books. One can get insight and help from reading books, but one must play tennis or act to learn either.

Even acting in bad shows in bad venues can be helpful for a mindful actor. Seeing great acting from the audience--if you know about technique--can be helpful. Nothing substitutes for doing and rehearsal is the laboratory for discovery and learning. IMHO.

Tim Donahue

I am the co-author of "Theater Careers: A Realistic Guide," "Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater," and two undergraduate textbooks, "The Enjoyment of Theatre, Ninth Edition," and "A Concise History of Theatre, First Edition."

Answer by tim donahue

Like Tim Donahue said, you can't learn how to act from a book. But they can give you some ideas to carry with you as you learn.

The Stanislavski is possibly "The" acting book to read, particularly when it comes to The Method style of acting, although I found it a bit tough going and sometimes made little sense to me. But then it is a translation of an 80ish year old Russian text. [Correction: A couple of days later and I've realised it was written in English, not Stanislavski's native Russian.]

One evening course I did had everyone read Uta Hagen's Respect for Acting, which, if I recall correctly, was a reiteration or elaboration on Stanislavski's ideas. It also has a bunch of simple exercises she says you should practice a lot on your own, which may be useful for some people - I found this style of things a bit too "interior" for me.

I really liked Sanford Meisner On Acting. He moved things on to encourage the actor to focus on the person they're acting with, and to encourage the ability to respond to them naturally. This made a lot of sense to me. I think there are DVD(s) of him teaching available too.

My notes on those three books are on my website, which might give you a flavour of them.

Then there are very different styles of acting. I did a course based on the teaching of Jacques Lecoq, which is more physical, perhaps less "thinky". His book The Moving Body might be an interesting contrast to those above. Some people on that course seemed very keen on Grotowski's Towards A Poor Theatre, as well as Johnstone's Impro, which you mention and is often raved about. Good luck!

Phil (ex-acting student)

Answer by philgyford
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