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  • An Actor Rehearses: What To Do When and Why
  • Hillary Haft Bucs
An Actor Rehearses: What To Do When and Why. By David Hlavsa. New York: Allworth Press, 2006; pp. ix + 187. $18.95 paper.

In An Actor Rehearses: What To Do When and Why, David Hlavsa outlines the rehearsal process for the actor from the preparation for the first read-through through the postproduction assessment. Hlavsa guides the actor through numerous exercises that are drawn from a wide range of sources. His writing style is humorous, matter-of-fact, and easy to follow for both the novice and professional actor alike. This text is successful as a unique resource for the entire rehearsal process, effectively empowering the actor to become a strong and effective collaborator.

In chapter 1, “Before Rehearsals Start: Step Up to the Plate,” Hlavsa begins by encouraging the actor “to come to rehearsals ready to collaborate” (1), challenging him/her to make strong choices before and during rehearsals. A novel aspect of An Actor Rehearses is the great detail the author puts into the preparation for table-work in chapter 2, titled “At the Table: Use Your Words.” For instance, he recommends techniques for the actor to physicalize the role while in the midst of table-work by likening the movement at the table to “car dancing” (21).

This is where Hlavsa lays the groundwork for the offering of exercises that forms the most valuable feature of his text. He demonstrates an astute understanding of the experience of actors by presenting exercises throughout the book that address practical challenges actors face in the rehearsal process. The exercises, designed for actors to try prior to the start of rehearsals and/or outside the rehearsal hall, are numerous and thorough, particularly through Hlavsa’s creative use of “variations” throughout the text. Variations are designed to help keep the exercises fresh and productive when they might otherwise become stale and repetitious.

As rehearsals move toward the blocking process, Hlavsa again encourages the use of exercises from a variety of sources to provide the actor insight into directorial techniques and to equip him or her with the ability to come to rehearsals prepared to make strong choices. Of particular note, Hlavsa provides the actor with 11 extremely useful tips for aiding the director in the staging process. He also presents some helpful techniques for uncovering and defining character intentions in association with relationships. Hlavsa combines the status work of Keith Johnstone with both standard objective work from the actor’s perspective and objective/tactic work reminiscent of that found in Bill Ball’s A Sense of Direction.

Chapter 4 focuses on techniques for the exploration of the character’s emotional life in a given scene: “By distorting the scene, exaggerating one element, neglecting another, grafting on yet another, we gain fresh perspectives, new possibilities” (85). Hlavsa utilizes a sequence of exercises he calls “emotional variations” (91) that help instigate emotions in the actor in a timely and useful fashion. He uses what he calls “scanning for emotion” (91) in the majority of the exercises in which he asks the actor “not to create the particular emotion but simply to be on the lookout for it, amplify it as much as possible, and use every opportunity to express it” (92). As Hlavsa himself notes, many acting teachers shy away from the use of emotions as tools in and of themselves, but these emotional exercises speak to the novice actor’s psychology and provide techniques for achieving emotional availability that both actor and director can use in their collaborations.

In later chapters, Hlavsa addresses important practical issues related to both rehearsals and performances. For [End Page 247] instance, he humorously discusses what makes opening night magical and speculates on why the second night’s performance can often be disappointing. He then encourages the actor to overcome such challenges by concentrating on methodology and technique through the creation of a ritual routine the actor can follow on each performance day. In the closing chapter, titled “Afterwards: What Actors Learn,” the author takes the actor to the final stage of the rehearsal/performance process and provides advice on how to handle criticism...


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