It’s probably something to do with Christmas creeping up but performing arts training books seem to be cascading onto my desk in large numbers at the moment. So it’s time I told you about some of them so that I can find shelf room for the ones I want to keep and dispose of the others so that I can see the wall opposite once more. Here, then are just five of the best.
Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen by Elliot Grove (Methuen Drama) is my first choice. Grove founded the Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards. His book gives anyone wanting to make films a comprehensive, fully illustrated, behind-the-camera run down on how the professionals do it.
Grove discusses how to come up with an idea and then develop a character along with useful advice about budgeting, lighting, organising a shoot, editing, marketing and attending film festivals. I like the A4 format and the accessible way this book is laid out with lots of very practical information based around illustrations (think Dorling Kindersley). A welcome Christmas present for film students and film studies students, I would have thought.
Another book I’m taken with is Caroline Goyder’s The Star Qualities (Sidgwick & Jackson). It is subtitled “How to sparkle in all aspects of your life” and includes lots of advice from Big Names such as Helen Mirren, Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet and many others all of whom the author has interviewed. We’ve had plenty of books about confidence and presence before, but it is good is to present some of the information in authoritative vignettes like this.
Many actors and drama students, for instance, will know just what Frances McDormand means when she says, “The occupational hazard of leading a transformational existence is that one feels like no one between transformations.” Or consider Bill Nighy’s observations on stage fright: “It is perfectly legitimate to be afraid in these circumstances. It’s a healthy, normal reaction. You are supposed to be afraid. Only the mad are not.”
Plenty more where these came from courtesy of Goyder, who trains actors at Central School of Speech and Drama as well as coaching professionals such as broadcasters and politicians. I learned a lot from her book.
Secrets from the Casting Couch by Nancy Bishop (Methuen Drama) gives practical advice for actors from a casting director’s point of view and teaches the craft of film casting in front of a camera. It shows how actors can use today’s internet technologies to get cast and includes tips on how to get yourself noticed (very similar to some of Caroline’s Goyder’s hints) with practical, script-based exercises and plenty of information.
Nancy Bishop, who has worked with directors such as Roman Polanski and Joel Schumacher, was involved with TV series such as Charles II and Anne Frank, the whole story (both BBC) and feature films such as Prince Caspian and The Bourne Identity.
Stanislavski-influenced Sam Kogan (1946-2004) arrived in Britain in the 1970s, in flight from Soviet Russia where he had studied at Moscow Institute Theatre Arts. He established the science of acting as a standalone technique.* The Science of Acting* by Sam Kogan, ed Helen Kogan (Routledge) is a useful introduction.
Famously, Kogan uses neuroscience and psychology and explores the ways in which they relate to acting. Practical exercises give the reader a surprisingly accessible step-by-step guide to creating a character: by working out his or her (and your) ‘mindprint,’ for example. There’s good advice on the nature of different kinds of thoughts, many of which think themselves. I enjoyed too the assertion that actions are for an actor what sounds and silences are to a musician or shapes and colours to a painter. It all adds up to an immensely detailed and illuminating take on the actor’s craft and the knowledge which underpins it.
Lastly, it’s always a good moment when that well established annual - Actors’ Yearbook 2010 (Methuen Drama) - arrives. The 2010 edition certainly doesn’t disappoint, clad in its usual elegant grey cover. New for this year are a checklist of drama school deadlines, a piece about the Co-operative Personal Management Association (CPMA) and a rundown on the drama schools’ new Essentials Guide which tells you what to look for in good vocational training. The listings - relating to casting directors, companies, producing theatres, opportunities for disabled actors and many more - are as comprehensive as ever. All credit to editors Simon Dunmore and Hilary Lissenden for doing such a good and comprehensive job on what Christine Payne of Equity calls a ‘valuable companion’ for actors wherever they are in their careers.