To be an improvisor is a wonderful thing. It requires being many things at once, writer, director, Buddhist monk. But the chief obligation on that stage is to perform, emote, and serve as a conduit for the audience to experience the world being created.
Actor is a term that encompasses many fields. But there is a constant whether performing Shakespeare or Kabuki, Sketch Comedy or the Gisaro ceremony of the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea. There is skill, there is discipline and the ability to balance those technical abilities with a present connection to the visceral unwieldy emotive power dwelling inside.
Point being, there are many paths and many forms, but anyone planning to take a stage is entering a tradition as old as civilization. And the improvisor is best served by not ignoring this tradition. To be a jazz musician one still needs to learn how to play an instrument.
So you’re an actor. Now what? Might as well study up, eh?
There are many approaches to developing the skills necessary to become a great actor. But as with most ventures the best path for you is the path that works, plain and simple. Which is why it behooves you to familiarize yourself with many entry points and then experiment.
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen
A classic for a reason, I can think of no better introduction to the base skills necessary to fine tune your acting chops.
This book uses a glimpse into a Meisner workshop as a way to introduce and explore what has become perhaps the most commonly studied form at least in television and film. It should feel familiar to the well-versed improvisor as it relies on some improvisation. Although this could also lead to some misunderstandings as there are some overlaps in terminology that include different meanings and interpretations.
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski
First of all, it’s Russian so you know its serious. Stanislavski offers some very approachable exercises that brought acting into the 20th century. An essential part of acting’s modern history.
True & False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, David Mamet
A brilliant man takes a sledgehammer and a can of spray paint to everything suggested in this post. A fair introduction to the philosophy behind Practical Aesthetics. Bonus: makes watching Confidence Men even more enjoyable, because you feel like you’re in on the joke.
A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method by Lee Strasberg
Attempting to continue where Stanislavsky left off, Strasberg created the Method. There’s plenty of controversy around the Method, but shouldn’t you decide for yourself?
The Art of Acting by Stella Adler
Adler bridges Stanislavski’s System and Strasberg’s Method, in a way that is less likely to require therapy!
Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin
You’re already doing improv, might as well take a lesson from the woman who helped legitimize it in the theater world. Some say she’s the best of both worlds, others critique that Spolin misses much by compromising scripted and improvised approaches in ways that are unnecessary. At some point someone will want you to have an opinion on this yourself.
Written by Ted Meredith