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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 438-440

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Book Review

Acting A to Z:
The Young Person's Guide to a Stage or Screen Career

The Pursuit of Acting:
Working Actors Share Their Experience and Advice

Acting A to Z: The Young Person's Guide to a Stage or Screen Career. By Katherine Mayfield. New York: Back Stage Books, 1998; pp. v + 136. $16.95.

The Pursuit of Acting: Working Actors Share Their Experience and Advice. By Starra Andrews. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998; pp. ix + 177. $49.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.

Two recent books, Katherine Mayfield's Acting A to Z: The Young Person's Guide to a Stage or Screen Career and Starra Andrews's The Pursuit of Acting, offer advice, information, and encouragement to two different populations of aspiring actors. The first purports to focus on young people, ages ten to seventeen years old; the latter is more appropriate to adult actors who presently work or hope to work in the profession.

Acting A to Z is organized by alphabetical chapters: Acting: An Overview, Basic Tools of the Actor, Career Issues, etc. Cleverly arranged, the book covers everything from rehearsals to performances, résumés to head shots, and agents to auditions. Throughout the text, basic acting vocabulary is printed in bold with boxed definitions of these terms. Additional boxes contain quotations from young actors responding to questions about their acting ambitions. Mayfield also comments on these statements.

The book gives a well-rounded, if simplistic, overview of the acting profession, written in a language and style accessible to young people. The actual audience for this book is unclear, however. If, as stated on the cover, the book is written for the ten- to seventeen-year-old crowd, one wonders why Mayfield suggests that the young person should work on self-esteem by daily doing "one thing you do very well--cooking, making music, [End Page 438] dancing, talking politics--whatever it may be" (106). A ten-year-old talking politics? Equally puzzling is the discussion of other-than-acting jobs and the suggestion for a pre-teenager that "if you can learn typing, computer, or proofreading skills before you move to a big city, do it" (73); or the instruction to "look in the Yellow Pages under 'Employment Agencies--Temporary' to see if there are any in your area" (72). Possibly, the text is intended for the recent college graduate or maybe the parent who will help guide the teenager through the intricacies of a future acting career.

The information in this book is current and accurate, but the title is misleading. Instead of gearing the advice to a predominantly younger audience, the author seems to have written a "how-to" for anyone who has ever contemplated a future career in the theatre. The chapters offer elementary information--one chapter teaches the stage positions--downstage center, stage right, etc., on a stage ground plan, while another chapter offers more advanced, professional advice, for example the value of acting unions. This approach makes the book's potential readers neophyte ones who are searching for the most rudimentary guidance.

The Pursuit of Acting, on the other hand, is a detailed commentary about the realities of the acting profession. The book contains forty personal essays (two to three pages long), each written by professional, working actors who discuss their careers. Half of the text is devoted to those working in New York; the other half covers those pursuing careers in Los Angeles. After reading several chapters, one realizes that the actors have been asked to attempt to cover various questions in their essays: What got you involved in acting? What other jobs, if any, do you do while pursuing your acting career? How do you get an agent? What was your career highlight? Lowest point? How do you handle auditions? How do you handle rejection? What keeps you going? While most of the actors have answered some or...


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