The Acting Book
The Acting Book
📖 eBook - ePub

The Acting Book

John Abbott

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📖 eBook - ePub

The Acting Book

John Abbott

About This Book

A 'fast-forward' acting course covering all the essential techniques an actor needs to know and use - with a suite of exercises to put each technique into practice.

The Acting Book offers various ways to analyse a text and to create character, using not only the established processes of Stanislavsky and Meisner, but also new ones developed by the author over many years of teaching drama students. It also sets out a wide range of rehearsal techniques and improvisations, and it brims over with inventive practical exercises designed to stimulate the actor's imagination and build confidence.

The book will be invaluable to student actors as an accompaniment to their training, to established actors who wish to refresh their technique, and to drama teachers at every level.

'A fine source of ideas and information for drama teachers - a potted acting course, with plenty of practical exercises.' Teaching Drama

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Information

Year
2012
ISBN
9781780011592

HAMLET.… My lord, you play’d once i’ th’ university, you say?
POLONIUS. That I did, my lord, and was accounted a good actor.
Hamlet (3.2)
A FEW YEARS AGO I GOT A JOB DIRECTING SECOND-YEAR acting students at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. I had to direct a play and teach the students how to be actors at the same time. The play I chose was The Vortex by Noël Coward. It was written in 1924 when Coward was a young man, and it concerns the problems of taking drugs and how your relationship with your parents changes when you leave home. All in all I thought it was a subject that acting students could easily relate to.
At the time I was living in Chiswick, which is in West London. Mountview is in North London, so each day I drove round the North Circular Road on my motorbike to get to work. In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes a journey he made both physically, on his motorbike, and philosophically – into his consciousness. He uses a Native American word to describe this journey. He calls it a Chautauqua. There appear to be many definitions of the word ‘Chautauqua’ but I’ve taken it to mean: ‘Philosophical thoughts you have while travelling’. It’s a great word.
So anyway, as I was travelling round the North Circular Road I was puzzling over how I could teach these Mountview students to become actors, and I came up with these two thoughts:
‘Work like a Trojan.
Play like a child.’
The words kept ringing in my ears.
And as I travelled on between the lanes of crawling cars, other ideas came into my head, so when I got to Mountview I quickly wrote everything down. Later I refined it and reworked it, but essentially the thoughts I had on that journey – my Chautauqua – eventually became what I now call ‘The Ego Paradox’. It looks like a poem, but it’s not. It’s just a set of instructions on how to be an actor.
The Ego Paradox
Work like a Trojan
Play like a child
Have the imagination of a poet
The gusto of an abstract expressionist
And the courage of a gambler
Research like a detective
Experiment like a mad scientist
Think like a philosopher
And practise like a magician
Focus your concentration like an athlete in the Olympic Games
Believe in yourself as completely as the President of the United States
And always perform with the passionate commitment of a sanctified mystic.
Let me explain.
First of all the title. ‘The Ego Paradox’. What’s that all about?
It describes the paradox that an actor faces. In order to be able to stand up in front of hundreds of people and have them watch you pretend to be someone else, you have to have a pretty strong sense of who you are. You have to have a strong ego. But on the other hand, when you are playing a role, you have to suppress your own ego and take on the ego of the character you are playing. Therein lies the paradox.
Work like a Trojan
Play like a child
Being an actor is hard work, both physically and mentally, but actors should never lose sight of how childish it is and how much fun it can be. Children take their play very seriously, and so should actors. Work like Trojans? Well, I’d heard the expression before and assumed it meant to work very hard indeed. Anyway, that’s what I meant it to mean.
Have the imagination of a poet
Poets let their imaginations float above the common toil of everyday life. Nothing is barred. They keep their minds open so that all sorts of ideas and thoughts can drift in and be enjoyed. They are not afraid to examine their imaginative fantasies and write them down. They daydream creatively and that’s something that actors should do. Actors should open their imaginations just like poets.
The gusto of an abstract expressionist
One of the most famous abstract expressionists was the American painter Jackson Pollock. Sometimes they called his pictures ‘action paintings’, and I’m not surprised. I once saw a film of him working, using all these big tins of liquid paint, which looked like brightly coloured house paint. He laid his canvas flat on the floor and ran around splashing different colours on the canvas straight from the tin. It was like a sort of ballet. His physical movements were part of the action. He dipped and dribbled and swooped and spun with tremendous gusto. The picture sprang into life. Actors should splash their ideas around just like Jackson Pollock splashed his paint around. A bit of red here! Splash! Spin! How about some yellow? Splatter! Swirl! Take big chances. Try out ideas and see what happens. Create with gusto.
The courage of a gambler
Courage comes in many guises. We think of courage being needed in life-or-death situations. Going into battle. Skydiving off a mountain. Confronting an armed criminal. That sort of thing. But although acting is important, I don’t think anyone should risk their lives for it. But money? That’s different. I read this story in the papers about a man who sold everything he owned – his house, his car, his furniture, his clothes probably – gathered up all his money and took it to Las Vegas. One evening he went down to the roulette table and put all his cash on the black. This would mean he would either lose everything or he would double it. Whatever happened, it would change his life. As I read about this guy I thought about the moment he put his money down. What courage he must have had. He didn’t have to do it. The money was his. He could take it back to England and buy another house. But no! Here goes nothing. Put the money on the black and sweat. Watch the ball whizz around the edge of the roulette wheel. Spin. Whizz. Bounce. Circle. Bounce and bounce. And… Time must have stood still… Where will it rest…? Plop! What a great story, but what courage. To risk everything. That is the sort of courage that an actor needs in rehearsal. The courage to lose everything. The courage to fail. (I know you want to know what happened at that roulette wheel. Well… he won!)
Research like a detective
Look for clues. In the script, on the internet, in conversations with other people; they can be anywhere and everywhere. Detectives love to collect clues. They know that the tiniest thing could be important. A strand of hair. A bus ticket to Ruislip. Anything and everything is worth considering. Actors should collect together all the clues they can find, just like a detective. Examine them. Evaluate them. And draw conclusions. Every detail is another part of the jigsaw. The script is full of clues. Look carefully. Some are easy to miss.
Experiment like a mad scientist
‘A little of zis blue liquid mixed over a flame viz some phosphorus and a dash of charcoal.’ Pop and fizz. It starts to bubble. ‘I’ll add zis mysterious concoction I made yesterday.’ Bubble, bubble, bubble. ‘How about putting in some more…?’ BANG!!!***!!! Explosion. Hair on end. Blackened face. Insane laughter. ‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Zat vas interestink!’ The mad scientist creates the elixir of life and drinks it, even though it might turn him into a monster. But at least he tried to make something happen. And his next concoction could make him live for ever, with X-ray eyes and superhuman strength. The mad scientist takes a chance, tries something new and comes up with unexpected results. That’s what actors need to do. Experiment.
Think like a philosopher
Philosophers calmly weigh all the facts and theories. They look for connections. They balance one idea against another and come up with innovative conclusions. They attempt to answer impossible questions about existence, truth and art. In their search to bring the bigger picture into focus they ponder every detail. Philosophy is a love of knowledge. A love of wisdom. Philosophers use their intellect in a systematic and reasoned manner, collating and comparing the wisdom of others. That’s what actors should do.
Practise like a magician
Magicians will practise a trick over and over again so the audience won’t see how it’s done. They put a lot of effort into making things look effortless. Like ballet dancers or jugglers, they spend hours and hours in preparation in order to perfect their art and create a few minutes of unforced, confident entertainment. And, let’s face it, actors themselves are magicians. They play tricks with the audience’s imagination. They make fictitious characters come to life. They conjure up other eras. Other worlds. The audience sits comfortably in a darkened room while the actors take them on exciting journeys. But in order to do all this successfully, actors have to rehearse. They have to practise so the audience doesn’t see the mechanics of their conjuring tricks.
Focus your concentration like an athlete in the Olympic Games
Wholehearted concentration produces better results. Athletes focus on the job in hand. They stand at the start of the hundred-metre dash with every ounce of their concentration focused on the finishing line. In their mind’s eye they have already won the race. All the surrounding distractions are eliminated in their desire to be at their best for approximately ten seconds. In some events, like the high jump, when every muscle must work perfectly the minute they leave the ground, you often see the athlete physically acting through their movements before they make an attempt. They are imagining success. They are focused. They are concentrating. That’s the sort of concentration that actors need when they are rehearsing or performing a scene. It can’t be half-hearted. It has to be total. And they need to get into that zone before they start to work.
Believe in yourself as completely as the President of the United States
It doesn’t matter who the President is, or in what decade, every single President during my lifetime has had a massively positive sense of self-belief. I suppose they have to or they would never get any votes. The funny thing is, self-belief works. ‘To thine own self be true,’ says Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And he wasn’t wrong. If you believe in yourself and your way of doing things, then other people will often believe in you and admire what you do. We know about creative artists who defied the existing rules and broke new ground with their art. They are the ones who resolutely swam against the tide with a total belief in themselves. And they are the people we remember today. Van Gogh. Bob Dylan. Stravinsky. Ernest Hemingway. Marlon Brando. Innovators all. The people that changed things. Created a new version of their art. If actors can learn to believe in themselves and what they are doing, then everyone else will believe in them too.
Always perform with the passionate commitment of a sanctified mystic
Hah! What does that mean? What’s a sanctified mystic when it’s at home? We...

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APA 6 Citation
Abbott, J. (2012). The Acting Book ([edition unavailable]). Nick Hern Books. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1420052/the-acting-book-pdf (Original work published 2012)
Chicago Citation
Abbott, John. (2012) 2012. The Acting Book. [Edition unavailable]. Nick Hern Books. https://www.perlego.com/book/1420052/the-acting-book-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Abbott, J. (2012) The Acting Book. [edition unavailable]. Nick Hern Books. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1420052/the-acting-book-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Abbott, John. The Acting Book. [edition unavailable]. Nick Hern Books, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.
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