acting the first 6

This is another post in the series From The Library where we discuss the theatre-related books we are reading and hopefully give readers a deeper insight into what we do at Undermain.

I’ve just recently finished reading Acting “The First Six Lessons” by Richard Boleslavsky, recommended to me by an acting teacher while I was still in high school. Boleslavsky (also spelt Boleslawski) was a Polish theatre and film director, actor, and acting teacher who lived and worked at the beginning of the 20th century. He trained as an actor at the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre under Konstantin Stanislavski, was director of the Moscow Art Theatre Studio, and founder of The American Laboratory Theatre in New York. He is known to be a major proponent for Stanislavski’s method in the United States.
Originally published in 1933, this book takes the reader through Boleslavsky’s six lessons of acting in a unique manner; every chapter is written in dialogue. The teacher, called I, guides a young woman, called The Creature, through her development as an actress. As the lessons progress, we see a mentor/student relationship grow between the two of them and it almost feels like you’re reading a play rather than a theatrical theory book.
The six lessons are Concentration, Memory of Emotion, Dramatic Action, Characterization, Observation, and Rhythm. Each lesson is taught to the actress at different stages of her career. Because of the dialogue, the lessons are not tedious to read or overly verbose and are presented in a different manner each time. For example, the lesson on Dramatic Action is taught while the two characters take a walk through a park and analyze the action of their stroll, while the lesson on Observation takes place at the studio over a cup of tea.
At times though, the dialogue gets repetitive as the teacher drives home each point for the naïve actress and, perhaps because I read it more as a play rather than a book on theatrical theory, I found myself questioning how perfectly her questions fit into his speeches and how quickly she caught up with what he was teaching when it took me a couple read-throughs because I didn’t find his example very clear.
Speaking of reading it as a play, in May of 2010 Theatre West in Los Angeles mounted a production of Acting: The First Six Lessons adapted by and starring Beau Bridges and his daughter Emily Bridges, directed by Charlie Mount. Judging from reviews, it looks like it was well received and a published version of the play can be purchased online.

For an actor, Acting “The First Six Lessons” is a concise, basic guide to Stanislavki’s method through one of his most successful students, which would be valuable at any stage of a career. For directors, it provides unique examples of Boleslavky’s thought process when working with actors. For avid fans of the theater, it’s a short, easy read that gives insight into an actor’s process of preparing for a role.

-Brittany Johnson, Undermain Emerging Artist