What does the study of acting mean? What is the point of writing books about a subject so practical in its nature when we all know that there are successful actors who never trained formally? Donna Soto-Morettini, a casting director and performance coach, wonders in her book, The Philosophical Actor: A Practical Meditation for Practicing Theatre Artists. This book looks at a broad-based analysis of the tools and the language used when one is working or training in acting.
There have been many books published on acting, actor training and practical theories for preparing for a role, but none of these books has ever looked philosophically at the language and the concepts that we use when we talk about acting, says the author in the her 232-page book that she states is geared towards helping actors interpret a role as written. Even the most critically acclaimed books that teach you to learn Italian while you sleep do not match the levels that Donna Soto-Morettini has reached in her book.
“It seems to me that there are some important and interesting books written specifically for the academic/theoretical market that look closely at critical theory and of course there are countless practical books. It is my humble hope that this book can bridge the gap between this more academic/theoretical and practical split.”
While questioning the relationship between intellectual labour or analysis and practical expression in acting, Soto-Morettini addresses some of the important intellectual queries about acting in the five chapters.
Noting that most books on acting tend to anchor critical judgment on truth, the author observes that there are really only two raging debates in the more theoretical area; the first debate being about the relationship of the actor’s own feelings to the feelings that the actor portrays and the second is the relationship of the actor’s own personality to the personality of the character that the actor portrays.
In chapter three, while addressing the question “How am I feeling?”, the writer states that in acting the actor takes the risk of losing his soul as his profession tends to pervert him pushing him to abandon himself and live pretence.
In this chapter that exclusively discusses the aspect of feelings and emotions in regard to the art of acting, Soto-Morettini states that emotions play out in the theatre of the body while feelings play out in the theatre of the mind. She says that most actors and directors consider these words to be synonymous and most of them use them as if we all understand exactly what they mean when we use them.
Most acting theorists and teachers believe that before all else actors must gain control over the wandering mind as the human mind is said to experience a flow of thought or a stream of consciousness that averages 12-50,000 thoughts in 24 hours.
Acting books filled with transitive verbs and twenty step programmes may appeal strongly to our rational desire to solve the mystery of good acting quickly. While they impart the acting technique, they do so as if we already understand how we think, how we imagine, how we empathise, how we remember yet these are not only highly complex to the actor but are a significant share of the actor’s craft.
The Philosophical Actor grapples with the fundamental questions of truth, art and human nature and thus questions whether there is something to be learned from a philosophical examination of our conventions and our language.
Retailing at US$30 per paper back, this book-that is likely to and stimulate discussion among professional actors and directors-may not be aimed at the general beginner’s market. It is educators and more advanced students in drama who may find it of greater help.
The Philosophical Actor: A Practical Meditation for Practicing Theatre Artists is published simultaneously in the UK and in the USA by Intellect in 2010.