- Acting: An Introduction to the Art and Craft of Playing
Drawing upon various approaches to acting, voice, and movement, Paul Kassel's Acting is a useful introduction to the actor's craft that involves an effective blending of basic theory and practical exercises. Situating the actor as the central artist of the theatre—and drawing upon parallels from science and sports as well as examples from various schools of acting—Kassel introduces basic concepts, terms, and methods for the beginning student of acting who does not have a background in theatre.
The Japanese notion of "ki" serves as one of Kassel's central concepts. Regarding "ki," he states: "Prior to any behavior there exists the potential energy for action" (xviii). Building on this concept of potential energy, Kassel offers "ki points" after selected exercises, with advice on how the actor may best utilize this reservoir of energy in the development of an artistic technique.
In the first section of the book, "Preparation for Playing," Kassel provides a theoretical foundation, built on the following definition of acting: "Performing an action determined by the theatrical conditions to accomplish a task" (9). The author contends that change is what art seeks to recreate, and in the theatre this change is conveyed with action and energy. He also points out that acting involves risk, and as a result, one of the greatest hindrances to effective acting is the failure of actors to trust themselves, their fellow players, and / or the audience.
The second section of the book, "Tools for Playing," addresses the actor's body, voice, imagination, and feelings. Herein, Kassel outlines a number of practical exercises and suggests a number of outside sources for developing these four tools. Significantly, he regards the imagination as the most powerful of the actor's tools. According to him, the imagination maintains direction for the actor's actions, keeping the actor in the world of the play. This direction is achieved by building a reserve of imaginary stimuli, which he classifies as sensations (imagining different sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and textures) and inventions (imagining conditions, situations, and relationships). He goes on to state that not only can the imagination help to alter behavior, but it can also have an effect on the performer's physiology.
In discussing the actor's imagination, Kassel references Stanislavski's concept of the "Magic If" as well as the Meisner variation of "As If." Additionally, there is a strong similarity to Chekhov in terms of the interrelatedness of imagination, feelings, and action. While Kassel does not cite Chekhov directly in the text, he does include To the Actor in his bibliography. He also employs a simplified version of the cognitive model of emotions as a basic explanation of the nature of feelings. This model utilizes a sequence—sensations to emotions to feelings to thoughts and actions—to explain the process of emotion. It is at the initial level of sensations that Kassel inserts the imagination, stating that an imagined sensation can then induce the subsequent levels of cognition. Therefore feelings can become a tool for use at the actor's discretion, a tool that can provide energy for action.
Kassel identifies four intentional actions from early childhood-development studies as central to the craft of acting: push, pull, hold, and release. Each of these actions has two variants, "to" and "from." Moreover, the actions operate within the concept of a "basic task," which Kassel uses in place of the more commonly used terms "objectives" and "intentions." By following this approach, he argues that the beginning actor will have identified the essential elements driving a role, determining what task the character is trying to accomplish and what methods are used to accomplish that task. Kassel then layers elements based on the "ki" framework of exchanging energy, such as relationships and circumstances, on top of this foundation.
The third section of the book, "Playing," addresses aspects of acting in a play such as stage positions, design elements, and script analysis. In keeping with the centrality of...