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Theatre Topics review of The Politics of American Actor Training

Theatre Topics
Volume 20, Number 2, September 2010
E-ISSN: 1086-3346 Print ISSN: 1054-8378
DOI: 10.1353/tt.2010.0102

Reviewed by Steven Harrick, Bowling Green State University 

With The Politics of American Actor Training, coeditors Ellen Margolis and Lissa Tyler Renaud make an important contribution to the fields of theater history and acting pedagogy. Along with twelve contributors, they have created an excellent publication that moves seamlessly among history, pedagogy, theory, and practice. As such, The Politics of American Actor Training serves several needs and deserves consideration from scholars, teachers, and professional theater artists alike.

In the introduction, Margolis and Renaud articulate their goals in pursuing this project: "Our collective aim has been to assess current and past training policies and practices, and to propose new ideas that will inform twenty-first century actor training in America" (2). The book offers several chapters that address one or both of these points. Divided into two parts, it covers topics as diverse as the many misunderstandings of Stanislavsky's work in the United States, recruiting a more diverse student body, and the difficulties of script selection and acting opportunities in one's larger academic community. The first part concerns the broader milieu of actor training, both in the United States and abroad, while the second part (neither part receives a name or heading) offers several approaches to teaching acting and specific techniques to employ in particular situations. Although the book contains two sections, many chapters could easily reside in either part of the book, as most of them address both ambitions of the co-editors and clearly speak to each other, making for a useful collection of essays.

Part 1 begins with Sharon Marie Carnicke's consideration of Stanislavsky and how his work has been misunderstood both in his native country and the United States. Carnicke builds upon her excellent work in the second edition of Stanislavsky in Focus: An Acting Master for the Twenty-First Century (2009). Jonathan Chambers's chapter on historicizing actor training follows Carnicke's. Both Carnicke and Chambers encourage historical contextualization in considering approaches to acting and acting theories. The Indian theater scholar/artist Chadradasan outlines ways in which American actor training (and Western actor training writ large) has seeped into Indian theater training and practice, as well as the ramifications of that influence. Leigh Woods and Lissa Tyler Renaud offer chapters suggesting ways to achieve a more satisfying artistic life through interdisciplinarity—Woods by encouraging actors to collaborate with those in other departments and community engagement, Renaud by suggesting more intellectual rigor (specifically with the European avant-garde). Donna Aronson looks at the growing Hispanic population in the United States and outlines how she actively pursued a more diverse student body in her previous theater department. Renaud caps off part 1 with her second chapter, this one focusing on her experiences teaching acting in Asia for several years. Part 1's strengths reside not only in the intellectual precision of the authors' works, but also in the specific pedagogical experiences they contemplate.

The second part is equally compelling, emphasizing the reasons to diversify theater programs. David Eulus Wiles suggests that "we should select artists to train based on their aptitude, as students in other disciplines are selected" (136). Mary Cutler's brief but thorough chapter looks at gender, typecasting, and script selection. Derek Mudd recounts his abusive experiences while pursuing an acting degree, particularly while rehearsing The Exonerated. He explains that he felt as though he had no agency, since it was the first opportunity for him to perform in his school's new Equity theater. Micha Espinosa and Antonio Ocampo-Guzman negotiate reinforcing and subverting stereotypes in their teaching Latina/o performers. Venus Opal Reese proposes a new approach to acting pedagogy based around dramaturgical experimentations by playwrights, specifically African American dramatists. Reese's chapter, in which she proposes "embodiment," offers a group of exercises useful to an embodiment approach to acting. Victoria Ann Lewis's chapter, "Disability and Access: A Manifesto for Actor Training," is a brief overview of disabled students who have pursued actor training at the university level, as well as specific ways to involve disabled individuals in the acting classroom without changing one's expectations or standards. Ellen Margolis's chapter—the final one of the book—thoughtfully examines how she has navigated the tricky issue of garnering a student's consent to touch her or him when teaching vocal training. Part 2 functions as a series of approaches and techniques for acting pedagogy and training.

The Politics of American Actor Training oftentimes tends to accentuate those areas of actor training that theater departments and acting teachers are not providing to their students, and the ways in which acting students are not prepared for a world filled (presumably) with rejection. However, many, if not most, of the authors who do write about the limitations of actor training suggest ways of addressing these potential problems. Taken as a whole, The Politics of American Actor Training is an admirable addition to the Routledge Advances in Theatre & Performance Studies series. While the series does not appear to have a stated mission or goal—at least not in this book—this book offers a wide array of scholarship that eludes obvious or simple categorization, but is nonetheless worthy of inclusion in the discourse of theater and performance studies. The Politics of American Actor Training is an important publication and belongs in the library of anyone teaching acting, acting theory, or theater history.
 

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  1. The Politics of American Actor Training

    Edited by Ellen Margolis, Lissa Tyler Renaud

    Series: Routledge Advances in Theatre & Performance Studies

    The essays in this volume address the historical, social, colonial, and administrative contexts that determine today's U.S. actor training, as well as matters of identity politics, access, and marginalization as they emerge in classrooms and rehearsal halls. It considers persistent, questioning...

    Published June 6th 2011 by Routledge