After focusing last January on the seldom-explored landscape of theatre-management training, and the year before on the invaluable practice of mentoring in the field, American Theatre returns in its annual special section, Approaches to Theatre Training, to the broadest, most visible and in some ways most contentious sector of the training universe: the preparation of actors for careers on the stage and beyond.
The two major articles in this section approach actor-training from opposite points of view. First, Ellen Orenstein’s “Shaping the Independent Actor” explores the perspectives of a set of distinguished master teachers, all of whom are associated with important university training programs. Then, in “For Working Actors, the Readiness Is All,” a dozen actors (counting interviewer Charlie Hensley) cast a sometimes skeptical, mostly appreciative eye on their own training and its practical implications.
Where, you may wonder, did the section’s emphasis on autonomy and self-determination come from? Ironically, the theme emerged not in Hensley’s interviews with actors—who seem fonder of viewing themselves as collaborators in a theatrical continuum than as singular, sui generis artistes—but in Orenstein’s candid and revealing conversations with teachers. “You have to bring the actor, eventually, to a place where the craft belongs to him,” declares veteran trainer William Esper, striking a note that many of his colleagues echo: In the last analysis, actors, no matter what their training backgrounds, must meet the challenge of creating a character on stage as individuals, with only their physical and psychic resources to draw upon.
In the section’s third entry, arts reporter Eliza Bent eyes two unlikely in-progress productions that tackle the ins and outs of actor-training as subject matter. “Why choose to examine the mechanics of acting through playmaking?” she wonders, and finds answers in the wise and witty devices of Austin, Tex.’s Rude Mechanicals and New York City’s Theatre MITU.
So here’s your opportunity to examine the mysterious process of acting from diametrically opposed viewpoints—that of those who break it down into an array of teachable components and that of those who fuse those components into the magic of performance. Ready, set, act. —Jim O’Quinn