To The Actor – Michael Chekhov Book Review

Whether you are an actor or a director, you have the same aim: a memorable performance. Sometimes you will be fortunate enough to be working with people who have trained in these disciplines. But you can’t always be picky with who you get to appear in your movie! Therefore, it is important to know how to communicate your intentions to your actors, or how to perform your director’s instructions. Shorts! has checked out a range of books on theatre studies, and recommends Michael Chekhov’s To the Actor for those who want to improve their acting skills.

The creator of the ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ principle, Michael Chekhov is a famous theatrical director and actor in his own right. He also found time to write his own manual on performance, On the Technique of Acting. To the Actor is a distilled and translated version of the original work, communicating Chekhov’s ideas in clear and concise English.

A warning: this is an intensely theoretical book in parts. Chekhov’s signature idea, the ‘psychological gesture’, is a movement or stance that defines a character, separate from any motion the narrative requires from you.

It requires some imagination and concentration to get your head around. But follow the book through and you will have the language you need to explain how you want a character to move and interact with others.

Concepts may be a little impenetrable at first, but there are useful activities for the reader to broaden their understanding. Exercises range from prompts for improvisation to a selection of illustrations to follow as you perform a role.

The nature of a production will ultimately define how useful To the Actor will be. If you are filming to a tight deadline, then there are likely better uses of your time than figuring out the precise atmosphere of your characters. Chekhov’s exercises might be useful, but not much else. However, for longer projects, exploring the roles alongside your actors will be a worthwhile investment before you turn the camera on.

Theatre is not the same as filmmaking, but there is plenty that one can learn about performing from To the Actor. Take it from Jack Nicholson and Sir Anthony Hopkins, who explains how Chekhov have helped them in their journeys to stardom. If you are serious about the acting in your films, then SHORTS! recommends this equally serious book as a framework for improvement.

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