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  • The Laban Workbook for Actors: A Practical Training Guide with Video by Katya Bloom et al.
  • Sebastian Samur
The Laban Workbook for Actors: A Practical Training Guide with Video. By Katya Bloom, Barbara Adrian, Tom Casciero, Jennifer Mizenko, and Claire Porter. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2017. Cloth $79.20, Paper $24.26, eBook $19.40. 296 pages.

This workbook brings together approaches from five practitioners who suggest different exercises for incorporating Laban-based work into acting. Each practitioner presents exercises for a different facet of acting, including physical foundations, character work, voice, psychological performance, and generating performance. A series of online videos accompanies this book for three of the five chapters, providing a useful means for illustrating some of the exercises that might otherwise be difficult to understand.

As one would expect in a practical guidebook, this book has limited historical and theoretical information on Rudolf Laban’s work. Readers should thus already have some familiarity with Laban’s writing and ideas. Familiarity with the Bartenieff Fundamentals is equally helpful, as a number of exercises are drawn from that specific training school. At a minimum, readers should have previous acting experience in voice and movement, and ideally some knowledge of approaches [End Page 120] from Konstantin Stanislavsky, Michael Chekhov, and Sanford Meisner. The Laban Workbook for Actors is thus arguably best suited for acting teachers looking to broaden the scope of their pedagogical approaches. Several of the exercises are made for groups, which would be difficult for an individual actor to apply (though they may still be of interest and can be observed through some of the videos). Overall, this book provides a valuable new set of tools for acting instructors looking for movement-based exercises, both for somatic and creative ends.

Each chapter is written by a different author and covers a different approach to Laban’s work for acting. Frequently, the authors begin with warm-up exercises and gradually integrate more specifically Laban-based work. The first chapter, on acting foundations, provides a useful introduction to the basic six Bartenieff Fundamentals (Irmgard Bartenieff developed these somatic exercises out of her work with Laban). The accompanying video supplements aid in ensuring these are executed correctly (though this is still no substitute for personalized hands- on classwork with a teacher). The second chapter, “Moving into Character,” provides some of the strongest applications of Laban’s work, featuring exercises that incorporate effort actions, states of mind, and drives. The exercises begin simply, with work on a single effort quality, and gradually increase in complexity through the addition of further effort qualities. The application of Laban’s ideas is straightforward, yet proffers rich variations of qualities for actors to explore as they combine details of weight, flow, time, and space. The chapter illustrates directly the pertinence of Laban’s concepts to acting. It also provides a solid foundation for the exercises on voice in the following chapter, which similarly incorporate effort actions. Chapter 3 features Laban’s action drives, but centers on work with shape, which is explored in considerable depth. Laban’s notions of shape flow and carving are well-applied here, making a strong case for linking an actor’s articulation of thought with their physical and vocal articulation. The author examines how performance elements such as character qualities, given circumstances, and the play text can affect choices with shape (and conversely how certain shapes can evoke particular character qualities). These include physical shapes, vocal shapes (suggested by vowels and consonants), and shaping of the breath. The thorough consideration here demonstrates how much content and character detail an actor can extract by focusing extensively on a single Laban Movement Analysis concept.

The fourth chapter in the workbook, on psychological acting, covers promising terrain, but unfortunately the material it aims to encompass is too vast. The attempt here—which is certainly of interest, despite its shortcomings—is to find ways of blending Laban’s ideas with those of practitioners such as Stanislavsky, Chekhov, and Meisner. This is far too much territory to cover in a single chapter, and the result is perhaps most useful for inspiration, rather than direct application. The limited space means Stanislavsky’s work is narrowly defined...


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pp. 120-122
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