The title of this book may make you think acting coach Alice Spivak is writing about what actors can do to keep their instrument fine-tuned when they're not working. But the subtitle—Acting and the Media—tips you off to her real theme: Spivak is writing about assignments in film, television, and commercials in which the rehearsal period is either severely truncated or altogether absent.
But before she can describe how to streamline the acting process for film and TV, the author feels compelled to first outline her regular, long-form procedures. Her pedagogy is based on the system of Konstantin Stanislavsky as interpreted and taught by Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof (Spivak both studied and taught at New York's HB Studio). She lays out an 11-step program for developing a role, from reading the script through creating a "character chart" enumerating background and character traits.
It is not until the final 50 or 60 pages that Spivak approaches in detail the fast-track version of her process. This is the most readable—and arguably most useful—section of the book, in part because it is so full of personal anecdotes and specific advice. For instance, in a section on how actors can cope with a director who gives nothing but blunt, simple commands, she suggests ways of smoothly and quickly turning such direction into justified action. If a director tells you to "speak louder," for example, you can choose to "endow" your acting partner with a hearing deficiency.
From the outset, Spivak makes no secret of her disdain for most "media" acting endeavors, as opposed to solid stage work. She's particularly critical of daytime drama and situation comedy. "Now," she writes, "most of the writing in television and films has become hackneyed and only revisits what was done previously, which might have been mediocre to begin with." In the back of the reader's mind lurks the question of why she took the pains to write a treatise on how to flourish in genres for which she has so little respect.
>Reviewed by Mark Dundas Wood