A book of monologues that's equally concerned with helping young actors understand theory and develop characters, Private Stories is often right on the mark, but at times it's too simplistic and confused about its thesis. Though most of the information in the preface and the "Notes to the Actor" seems old hat, it's easily digestible and a good starting point for young actors with no clue how to begin.
An acting teacher and drama therapist, Elizabeth Bauman developed her "seven key questions" while working with a young actor who couldn't connect to his material. They include "Who are you?" "Where are you?" and "Why are you there?"—all of them familiar to actors. The seventh—"What clothing (costume) or props do you need?"—demonstrates how basic some of this advice is. Following the introductory sections are 32 age-appropriate monologues for boys and girls. All are original pieces written by Bauman based on conversations with her students.
Bauman's tone can be kind and nurturing. Urging her readers to make interesting choices, she writes, "Remember, there is no right or wrong"—helpful advice to a young actor concerned with looking foolish. Yet her tone can also turn gooey, such as when she notes that actors need a "supportive, safe, and nurturing environment in which to validate and express those emotions." Here's another: "It is a most magical journey."
The book is rife with grammatical errors and bad margins, and it's set in an off-puttingly large font that makes sense only when you consider the book's target readers. Then again, Bauman's audience is unclear: Is she writing for young actors, their teachers, or their parents? But her biggest gaffe comes after she lists her seven questions. She writes, "These are questions to help you. Use them only if you want to." Huh? Given the book's subtitle, it's surprising she's now making her questions optional. Is Bauman trying not to pressure young actors? One would hope she would stick to her guns.
Reviewed by Scott Matthew Harris