I've been reading up on theater, especially actors' and directors' craft, because of my current writing project (well, one of them at least... the fiction one), and part of this exploration led to me to the books "The Actor's Art and Craft" and "The Actor's Guide to Creating a Character" both by William Esper and Damon DiMarco. DiMarco creates a fictitious acting class at the Esper studio, where Bill Esper teaches the Meisner technique - or should we say the Esper technique? - to first-year (in the first book) and second-year (in the second one) acting students. I stumbled upon those books after reading other books, including the book by Sanford Meisner himself, and I've got to say, as someone who isn't planning to make a career in acting, I found the Esper/DiMarco books head and shoulders above the rest.
Esper and DiMarco possess a rare quality to not only explain exercises in clear terms but also convey what those exercises are important and why they will help actors improve themselves. It also helps that they've deliberately created a fictitious class to be better able to present common issues actors encounter. A lot of concepts I'd read in the Meisner book didn't make much sense until I read them again in the Esper/DiMarco book.
I particularly loved Esper's Commencement mini-speech at the very end of the second volume. The story of the talented actress (actor? I don't think Esper and DiMarco ever use the word actress) who got worried about her student loans after she graduated, took a job managing a discount store and never got the career she deserved rang true, although it's not clear whether the actress really existed, given the format of the book based on a fictitious class. Of course, most people interested in those books will be actors far more experienced than me in the craft of acting, so they might find the Meisner book extremely useful. But I've had to read enough books on theater craft over the past few months to strongly recommend that anyone eager to learn more about acting buy the Esper/DiMarco books first. And then of course, take real acting lessons, since no book will replace real-life experience, especially when it comes to acting.
The funny thing is, I probably won't incorporate anything I've read in those acting books in my novel, but it feels good to know what I'm talking about when I present actors in rehearsal. That and the fact that I'm taking an acting class at the Harvard Extension School (for fun and research too), so the books came handy for that purpose as well. So yes, maybe I bought the books to learn how to act a little bit. I'm preparing a monologue from The Maids as my "midterm". More about The Maids in my next post!