Two more useful training books have arrived. One is a fresh look at monologues from Limelight Editions in Wisconsin and the other a reissued, updated old favourite from Methuen Drama.
Prudence Wright Holmes has been coaching actors for more than a quarter of a century having acted extensively herself in, for example, the film Sister Act and the original off-Broadway casts of Godspell and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You.
Her book Monologue Mastery: The Actor’s Guide to Selecting and Performing Monologues stresses that it’s a good idea to be original and not present the audition panel with something they’ve heard countless times before — although writing your own is a high-risk strategy because you probably aren’t a very talented writer. One of her lists at the back of the book is entitled “Monologues they never want to hear again” - good advice.
She is also strong - and very practical - on how to deliver the monologue once you’ve chosen it. I liked the list of action verbs and the sections about crying on cue, managing beats and the difference between stage and film monologues. The frequently asked questions which deal with matters such as what you should wear to an audition are spot-on, although I was amused by the ultra-conservative, very American, cautious approach to dealing with ‘profanity’ in monologues.
Theatre Games: A New Approach to Drama Training, first published in 1977, is aimed primarily at drama teachers in schools and higher education and at students, although the general reader stands to learn a lot about the processes which actors use to develop a final performance.
For example, Barker favoured the use of non-existent languages (not Gibberish) such as mock-Russian to help background actors to be vibrant in, for example, party scenes. He had interesting ideas too about how to apply and develop Stanislavski’s “circle of concentration” idea.
There is a fair amount of theory in this well-written, readable classic amongst the practical exercises - but it is in effect an extended masterclass on paper and there is nothing ‘heavy’ about it.
The new edition comes with an introduction by Dick McCaw, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Drama at Royal Holloway University of London, who knew and worked with Barker for the last twenty years of his life. With the book is a DVD-ROM which includes video footage showing Barker using the games with students.