- The 10 Commandments of Theatre: The Gospel According to Stanislavski, and: The 113 Keys to Acting
Young actors have two new texts to explore as complements to actor training. Both The 10 Commandments of Theatre: The Gospel According to Stanislavski by Anne Johnston-Brown and The 113 Keys to Acting by Hugh O’Gorman offer approaches to an “action-based” training philosophy. The 10 Commandments of Theatre imparts practical advice to the actor based on Constantine Stanislavski’s An Actor’s Handbook. The 113 Keys to Acting is intended as a college-level introductory acting textbook for nonmajors. Both authors seek the audience of the beginning actor. The structure of each book is similar in that each author presents specific steps or guidelines leading the reader to a methodology for the practice of acting. However, the content of each text and intent of each author is quite different.
The 10 Commandments of Theatre was originally written as a gift to Anne Johnston-Brown’s young cast-mates in a production of The Sound of Music. In the text, she successfully provides a solid distillation of acting techniques based on Stanislavski’s principles. Johnston-Brown wisely stresses in her introduction that accomplished actors use a wide variety of methods to hone their technique that may or may not be based in Stanislavski’s method. She also strongly recommends training outside the confines of her text. The author’s acting guide is structured to mimic the Bible’s Ten Commandments. The first part is broken down into ten general theatre commandments, and the second part is broken down into the ten commandments of auditioning.
In each chapter or “commandment” of the theatre, Johnston-Brown explores a component of the actor’s technique. She includes personal stories (in the tradition of Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting) to support the topic being covered. At the conclusion of each chapter, the author illuminates her ideas with direct quotes from Stanislavski’s An Actor’s Handbook. The basics are covered well and include the staples of active technique, using given circumstances to build a character, employing the magic “if,” listening in the moment, and, most importantly, how to pursue an active objective. Johnston-Brown goes beyond technique to address practical issues in order to help inexperienced actors navigate rehearsals (always bring a pencil!), directors, peers, and criticism, and kindly offers advice on how to keep the actor’s instrument healthy.
The second part of Johnston-Brown’s book deals with the audition process, following the same ten-step formula. There is good counsel here for the young actor just entering the profession, auditioning for community theatre, or considering an audition for an undergraduate program. Topics range from suggestions on how to find a qualified photographer for a head shot, to how to deal with the actual audition process. Overall, The 10 Commandments of Theatre is written in a consistent, conversational style that is easy to read and accessible to readers of all ages.
The 113 Keys to Acting is a workbook that evolved from the “113 Bible”—a compilation of quotes, exercises, and knowledge supporting a nonmajors acting course offered at California State University, Long Beach. The book, intended to serve as a text for nontheatre-major acting courses, is divided into three parts. The first addresses “Work on Self,” the second “Work on the Role,” and the third “Theatre Appreciation.” Each chapter begins with a quote that inspires the discussion topic and concludes with exercises in workbook format. Within each chapter are “acting keys”—literal graphics of keys offset with quotes, definitions, or bullet points of knowledge.
In the first section of the book on “self,” O’Gorman examines the nature of being human and how each component of human nature relates to acting. Twenty-two of the 36 chapters involve the examination of “self.” Some of the topics included...