theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Prunella Scales and Timothy West have distilled their wisdom and experience into one of the most valuable books for young and aspiring actors that I have read in recent years, So You Want To Be An Actor? Perhaps much of it has been said or written before but never with such economy and clarity or, indeed, pragmatic good humour. The book also works extremely well as a refresher course for seasoned professionals. In fact, So You Want to Be an Actor? is a book to keep with you from debut to death.
It has, as they write in their introduction, ‘no pretence to canon law’ and they allow that some of the advice ‘may be bad’ but that some of it ‘may be so good that we wish we had taken it ourselves’!
Covering everything from whether or not to train (she went to the Old Vic Theatre School; he learned on the job), how to approach character and working with ‘people you don’t get on with’ to jobs ‘you can’t afford to do’ and coping with media attention, it is divided up into three sections entitled Preparation, Practice and Perseverence, plus an appendix of useful sources.
They pull no punches – if you don’t like some of the things you will learn from this book, acting is not for you. Neither do they shy away from expressing opinions that have changed over the years or are at odds with the other, as witness their comments on the answer to one of the most frequently asked questions of actors: “How ever do you learn all those words?”
Scales, nervous about following Noël Coward’s dictum that one should have all the lines down before rehearsal ‘for fear of getting set ideas about the part and being found inflexible to work with’ has since come round to the idea: ‘it doesn’t make you set in your ways, on the contrary the confidence that comes from knowing the lines makes you more adaptable’.
Her husband disagrees: ‘The play on the page is one thing; once the words begin to be spoken aloud by other people, it becomes something quite other.’ He acknowledges, however, that much line-learning work has to be done in private.
One of the most constructive segments, particularly so in an age dominated by incorrect pronunciations, questionable punctuation, and the most extraordinary emphases given by people speaking in the public eye, compromising communication everywhere, is on phrasing, stress and soliloquies.
Sarah Vernon © 2005
Originally published n R&V 19-01-05
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