J.V. Seem's Reviews > A Practical Handbook for the Actor

A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder
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's review
Sep 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: theatre-acting

My boyfriend, when ordering a useful book, orders a stack, so that, if it comes up in conversation that someone needs to read up, or needs a little help on something (be it cognitive therapy or the art of the theatre), he's good and ready to supply works of literature.

A few weeks back, right after we'd started rehearsing for Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, I ordered a bunch of books on Stanislavsky technique in a panic, also because this is a golden opportunity to learn to use it, but because the play (which is really, really great) kind of scares me.
In confessing this to the boyfriend one night, he said: "Well, first start with this," and handed me A Practical Handbook for the Actor.

This is a really skinny book, but practical. You don't need to drone on for 700 pages when acting is really so simple. Or, it's not at all simple to do, but it's straightforward, and what you need to learn is what tools you have at your disposal in your craft.

The book focuses on practical things everyone can learn with a little hard work and determination, but the grand morale is: Don't act. Live it.
That is, live in the moment of the play, create fantasies that makes it real for you, and react off the other actors, not from some predetermined action. The actor's job is living truthfully in an imaginary circumstance, so try to accomplish that.

I love how practical an approach this book has; some drama teachers, and even directors, are of the overly artistic kind (the kind with flowing robes or decorative scarves flapping), who will supply a bunch of useless advice you won't be able to use, let alone understand.

My first ever play was with such a director (though I'm not sure I fully understood that at the time). I remember the frustration very vividly, I felt like I was banging my head against the wall, because I didn't understand what I was doing. I was told to react in such and such a way, in absurd ways at times, without understanding why, which makes your actions visibly fake. I peppered my director with a million questions about it, and the character I was playing, being a total nuisance, and she failing to explain it to me. In the end, I found my own approach, and my own interpretations, and the performance, though certainly not my best, ended up pretty okay. I vowed not to work with this director again though, not sure I'm up to the challenge, actually.
Since then, I've been blessed with awesome directors.

This, though, is a practical work, which is simple in use. The only thing I thought was perhaps not so great, is the fact that a lot of the same things are repeated again and again throughout the book. This could have been an even thinner work.

This coincides with many of my own thoughts about acting, whose main goal, after all, is to show (albeit in many, many different ways) what it is to be human.

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