I am not, nor have I ever been, an actor. What’s more, I have no desire to enter into that angst-ridden but potentially glamorous vocation. On the other hand, I’ve often wondered how people manage to stand on a stage or in front of a camera and, essentially, play make-believe. I’ve also wondered why some people are so dreadfully bad at acting while others can skip from one part to another, making me believe every word from every character they portray.
The late Milton Katselas’s book that not only answers my questions but that also must certainly help aspiring – and even established — actors to improve on their abilities to enchant audiences. Tony Award-nominated Katselas studied acting with Lee Strasberg but is best known as a director rather than an actor. He is also the founder of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, one of the most prominent acting schools in the United States. His students include the likes of Kate Hudson, George Clooney and Tyne Daly, along with a roster of others whose work speaks well for Katselas’s teaching ability.
Acting Class grew from a three-ring notebook that Katselas used as a textbook of sorts for his students, an ever-evolving resource for himself and his classes. Interspersed with his notes and essays, the reader will find transcripts of classes that personalize the process and reveal ubiquitous obstacles that almost every artist faces.
Also included is Katselas’s Checklist – 20 “tools any actor can use to help approach their work on a scene.” We’ve all seen fictional characters playing the role of the actor who constantly demands to know ‘What’s my motivation?’ Katselas breaks that generality—motivation-- down into its fundamental elements through his Checklist: The Event asks ‘what is taking place?’ and must be answered with a specific, in-the-moment response (people are dancing) rather than the grander but less useful abstract (it’s a coming-of-age moment); What Happened Before the Scene insists on mental and emotional prep work to propel the actor into the role rather than launching into the written lines from a cold start.
In a chapter entitled Why Isn’t An Actor All He Can Be?, Katselas lays out the 57 excuses for not quite pulling it off. Actually, there aren’t 57 different excuses, since ‘It worked in rehearsal’ is on the list several times. As I said, I’m not an actor but it’s clear that anyone who is an actor will find that one familiar.
Katselas is generous with his knowledge and experience and shows a true compassion for his students as he guides them gently through the emotional blocks that hamper their development. Specifically, this book is aimed at the dramatic arts world, those who want to improve their thespian skills for fun and profit. The bonus here is that Acting Class can be easily adapted to help almost any artist improve on the craft of choice, whether it’s writing, singing, dancing, sculpting, or any other field that you choose.