Applause Books publishes American Neo-Noir

Applause Books recently released American Neo Noir: The Movie Never Ends! This excerpt from the book provides a definition of the genre:

Part One

Classic Becomes Neo

The movie never ends

It goes on and on and on and on.

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard

Their shadows searching in the night

Streetlights people, living just to find emotion

Hiding somewhere in the night.

Steve Perry & Neal Schon

A Definition

After many years, decades actually, of critical debate about what constitutes a film noir, the issue is still not entirely resolved. For us, film noir was never a genre but an American film movement that was defined by style as much as content, which began around the same time as World War II and ended just twenty years later.

That time frame, at least, is now almost universally accepted. The classic period of film noir spans the years in which American filmmakers created and sustained the cycle over the course of more than four hundred feature films. It began just after 1940 with The Maltese Falcon and wound down around 1960 or shortly after Touch of Evil (1958). Certainly there were prototypes and precursors of the movement going back to the acme of the gangster genre in the early 1930s. And there were many stragglers, late entries by Sam Fuller and other independent directors, but before the mid-1960s film noir’s classic period had run its course.

There is no precise moment or movie that marks the beginning of neonoir. For us, neo-noir is more genre than movement, a mimicking of the style and content of the classic period, the best early example of which is John Boorman’s 1967 Point Blank, an adaptation of The Hunter, part of a postwar, hard-boiled series of “Parker” novels about the criminal underworld by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark. Like its antecedent and from the first, neonoir would also be tied closely to a literary movement, riffs on the work of Hammett, Chandler, and McCoy, starting with the gritty exploration of sociopathy by Jim Thompson, the smug mysogyny of Spillane’s Mike Hammer and then a next generation that included Westlake, Ross Macdonald, and Elmore Leonard. 

While such novelists pushed their violent protagonists even further down Chandler’s mean streets dark with something more than night, the neo-noir genre was defined by screenwriters and directors who had grown up watching movies during the classic period. Some of the early neo-noir were “retro-noir,” narratives set in the not-to-distant past, whose characters wore period costumes and drove vintage cars, such as the private detectives Jake Gittes in Chinatown (1974), the classic-period icon Robert Mitchum as an older and more fatigued Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely (1975), or Det. Tom Spellacy investigating a fictionalized “Black Dahlia” in True Confessions (1981). The multinational creative personnel of a movie like Chinatown written by American Robert Towne and directed by Polish émigré Roman Polanski, reenacted such classic-period relationships as Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder crafting Double Indemnity or Herman Mankiewicz and Robert Siodmak on Christmas Holiday (both 1944).

The most self-conscious of the early neo-noirs came from writer/directors. Walter Hill—who had previously scripted the 1972 paean Hickey & Boggs where old-school PIs discover that “there’s nothing left of this profession…it’s all over, it’s not about anything”—infused 1978’s The Driver with a noir style that echoed Kubrick’s The Killing (1957) and De Toth’s Crime Wave (1954). Hill’s characters are so pointedly archetypal that they do not even have names: they are simply the Driver, the Detective, and the Player. Three years later Body Heat (1981), Lawrence Kasdan’s homage to Double Indemnity, set a new standard for femme fatales. By 1987 the double-crosses and twisted psychology in David Mamet’s House of Games (1987) fully evoked its creator’s intent: “I am very familiar with noir…and I love it. I tried to be true.”

At the height of the classic period individual noir films transcended personal and generic outlook and reflected the cultural preoccupations of America no matter where the filmmakers were born. From the late 1970s to present, in a “neo-noir” period, many of the productions that again create the noir mood, whether in remakes or new narratives, have been undertaken by filmmakers cognizant of a heritage and intent on placing their own interpretation on it. As the various interviews conducted by scholar Todd Erickson and reproduced in his thesis where the term neo-noir was coined affirm, most of the filmmakers approach neo-noir with a conscious, expressive intent.

If neo-noir is to some extent, as in the classic period, America’s stylized vision of itself, one might expect a cynicism made even harsher by decades of cold war, nuclear peril, fiscal uncertainty, the threat of terrorism, millennial dystopia, and cultural upheaval. While the emphasis may have shifted among these social realities, the outpouring of films has continued. The actual results remain mixed. One aspect of film noir that many filmmakers have chosen to underscore is its forlorn romanticism, the need to find love and honor in a new society that venerates only sex and money. Many others have followed alternative narrative paths blazed in the classic period, and as a result any overview such as this needs a new “family tree” to trace through the titles. Of course, as with critic Raymond Durgnat’s original essay, many of the categories overlap and intersect, and many titles crossover several branches.

8 x 10 in. cutout print

The History of Canadian Rock ‘N’ Roll

Backbeat Books recently published The History of Canadian Rock ‘N’ Roll by Bob Mersereau. The book presents a streamlined, informative trip through the country’s rich history and depth of talent, from the 1950s to today, covering such topics as: Toronto’s club scene, the folk rock and psychedelic rock of the 1960s, Canadian artists who hit major stardom in the United States, the challenges and reform of the Canadian broadcasting system, the huge hits of the 1970s, Canadian artists’ presence all over the pop charts in the 1990s, and Canada’s indie-rock renaissance of the 2000s.

Check out the Foreword of this new Backbeat Books release, written by Neil Peart!

Foreword

A Life in Canadian Rock

It must have been the summer of 1964, so I was going on twelve. A group of four or five families from our neighborhood was living in a ragtag cluster of tents at Morgan’s Point, on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie. We were all camping there together for a few weeks that summer, while our dads commuted to St. Catharines for work. It was a boyhood ambience of sunburns, mosquito bites, campfires, a warm, shallow lake with a threatened undertow, playing coureurs de bois in the woods, and a first kiss under the sumacs.

One evening some of us kids were gathered outside the dance pavilion. We were too young to go in, and couldn’t have paid anyway (to have a quarter of your own was a big deal then), but stood nearby to listen. Who can now imagine such a remote time, pre-everything, when a man could remember the first time he ever heard rock music?

(And if that makes me “old,” I’m comfortable with it—proud of it. If a youngster tells me he was born in any later decade, my only response is sympathy: “You missed so much.”)

According to the posters, they were called The Morticians. They were pictured in long-tailed suits and top hats, and the battered hearse they and their gear traveled in was parked outside. My first impression of live rock music was that it was loud—surprise. They probably had a bunch of fifty-watt amps, but I’d only ever heard Dad’s hi-fi, the car radio’s single speaker, and the little transistor pressed up to my ear at night. The guitars were brash, jangly and warmly, voices echoey and unintelligible, something low was rumbling the walls, and I couldn’t understand why the drums sounded so metallic—not knowing what cymbals were. But the drumming sure galvanized my attention.

So did the noise . . . 

It was the time of the British Invasion, and soon there were rock bands everywhere—in every dance hall, and in every second garage. In those years I often spent school holidays with my Blackwell grandparents in Georgetown, Ontario. By an accident of familial timing, my uncle Richard was just a year older than me, so more like a cousin. He played drums in a band called The Outcasts, emulating the “blue-eyed soul” trend that was everything in nearby Toronto.

Even as I took up playing drums myself (well, practice pad and magazines on the bed for the first year), the musical education that was being delivered to me in little old St. Catharines was, in retrospect, astounding.

It is probably safe to say, from this twenty-first-century vantage point, that there was no better decade in which to be a kid than the ’50s, and no better decade to be a teenager—especially an inspiring musician—than the ’60s. Discuss . . . 

(If you missed it, see above sympathy.)

It was not radio or television or even word of mouth that introduced me to the music I came to love—it was cover bands. While I very much appreciated the R&B that influenced the “Toronto sound,” and played it in some of my earliest bands (still identifiable in my playing today), the first music that really electrified me was the “second wave” of the British Invasion. That was when rock ‘n’ roll became rock, I guess—edgy, aggressive-sounding bands like The Who, The Kinks, and The Hollies. I did not hear that kind of music on Top-40 radio, not then, but I heard it played by Graeme and the Wafers. They were a mod-style band from the Prairies who took up residence in the Niagara Peninsula one summer—and rocked my world.

The bands I saw at high schools, the roller rink, and the Castle (“A Knight Club for Teenagers”) included local heroes like The Modbeats, The Evil, The Ragged Edges, The Veltones (still remember their mournful single on CHOW radio from their hometown of Welland, “Just Another Face in the Crowd”), and dozens more, plus so many truly excellent bands from Toronto.

A few records trickled out from there, too, and we all liked the singles and albums by Mandala and The Ugly Ducklings. (One of my earliest conversations with bandmate Alex was about that album Somewhere Outside—including “Gaslight,” a single that ought to have been a huge hit everywhere—and Alex laughed when I played the staggered drum figure that opened “Just in Case You Wonder.”)

And the drummers! Anyone trying to lay down funky beats for those blue-eyed-soul bands simply had to have more chops that a surf-rock drummer. So they were all at least good, and some were masters whose playing still echoes in this eternal youngster’s inner transistor. Whitney Glan with Mandala, Skip Prokop with Lighthouse, Graham Lear with George Olliver’s Natural Gas, Danny Taylor with Nucleus, Dave Cairns with Leigh Ashford, and many more—all playing in my hometown on a weekly basis. Every drummer did a solo—it was simply expected—so even just standing in the audience, no young drummer ever had it so good.

Further afield, it was an adolescent thrill to see The Guess Who at a county fair in Caledonia, then again at the psychedelic youth pavilion called “Time Being” (1967, of course, the Summer of Love—still not fifteen, I was a little young for all that, but sure wanted to be part of it!) at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. The next time I saw The Guess Who was at a pop festival at Brock University in 1969, with Mashmakhan (Jerry Mercer another great drummer) and a number of local bands—including my first band with a handful of original songs, J.R. Flood. In front of ten thousand people, I played a drum solo in Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” just as Michael Shrieve had done at Woodstock, and it received a life-affirming reaction.

My head didn’t swell, but my ambition did. . . . 

In later years I would be privileged to become part of the history of Canadian rock, achieving unimagined success and accolades with my bandmates (“the Guys at Work”) Alex and Geddy.

Even that road was illuminated by touring with other Canadian bands—crossing paths early on with The Stampeders, April Wine, the great Downchild Blues Band, as we all struggled as opening acts and playing rock clubs around the U.S.

This book spotlights the pivotal role played by Ronnie Hawkins in early Canadian rock, and he had his part in Rush’s history, too. Our Moving Pictures album was written in the summer of 1980 at his farm near Peterborough—the same farm that hosted John and Yoko a decade earlier.

When Rush started to headline, we were able to bring other Canadian bands, like Max Webster and FM, on our U.S. tours. We even brought Max on a European tour—but even then they never caught on in the way we, as fans, expected they would. That “divide” remains a mystery—why so many great bands, from the ’60s and up through the ’70s and ’80s, failed to make that connection with American (or European) audiences. (That is to say, even when they had the opportunity.)

The Tragically Hip are another puzzling example. As a longtime fan of theirs, singing their praises, I sometimes describe them to unaware Americans as “the Canadian Pearl Jam.” In some aspects, notably lyrics and arguably songwriting in general, The Hip are the superior in that comparison—but again, by and large, Americans didn’t “get” them. I don’t get that.

Seeing them play at the House of Blues in West Hollywood one time in the early 200s, I had rarely seen an audience more engaged with a band’s songs. But alas, there weren’t as many in that audience as there might have been. . . .

The rest of the story can be left to the book you are about to commence reading. It is enough to say that the history Bob has researched so lovingly, and woven so deftly into an entertaining story, reflects a vitality, a creativity, and a power that is profoundly worth celebrating. It begins at a time when the only native rock was . . . the Canadian Shield and the Rocky Mountains. . . . 

Neil Peart, 2015

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How I Did It: Establishing a Playwrighting Career

Applause Theatre & Cinema Books has recently published How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career, edited by Lawrence Harbison. The book features many interviews with successful playwrights, all conducted by Harbison.

Check out the Foreword of this new Applause book, written by Theresa Rebeck!

Foreword

How do playwrights get their start? Where does the idea of being a playwright even come from, and then how does one start?

Once someone starts writing, how does that person figure out how to get a raw new play from a complete nobody to a place where someone produces it? And then what happens? And then what?

In a series of interviews that are chock full of the kind of information that other playwrights want to hear, Larry Harbison poses these questions to some of America’s finest contemporary playwrights. In conversations that range from a discussion of what kind of temp work you were doing when you started out as a playwright to how you got your first agent, and from who gave you a hand up to the thrill or heartbreak of that first production, Harbison focuses on the mysterious moment when a playwright steps out of that chrysalis and starts to emerge.

The designation emerging playwright is so commonplace that no one is quite sure what it means. Intuitively, one might think it means a playwright who nobody’s ever heard of. Or, a playwright whose plays are pretty good, but who has never had a production.

Or, a playwright who’s had a couple of productions in smaller venues but is hoping to get into a bigger house. Or, a playwright who has had a couple of productions but has made no money at all at it and still harbors the fantasy that someday someone might actually pay him or her to do this. 

Or, a playwright who is teaching playwriting at a university but struggles to get his or her own work into production. 

Recently, I was told that emerging playwright doesn’t mean any of that. Apparently, some people think an emerging playwright is actually a playwright who has already emerged enough to get the attention of people who might agree that this emerged playwright could use some help emerging further. Which means, I guess, that we need another word for what happens before that. Aspiring? Depressed? Hopeful? Wannabe?

People seem very concerned about these designations. Right now, the ones in vogue are emerging playwright, midcareer playwright, and master playwright. Although I have a friend who had a couple of strong pops straight out of graduate school, and since then, not much. She calls herself a “submerged playwright.” Frankly she’s not the only one who worries about submerging; anything past “emerging” and before “master” is a little worrisome. Will you make it through “mid career” or will you fall away into teaching or raising children or (oh no!) television?

That is not our concern today. Today we are looking at the moment when some of our most compelling playwrights emerged. Their stories are simply told, with appropriate attention to detail, which Harbison nurses out of them with a shrewd eye. They are in fact the stories that every young playwright wants to know. How does that moment happen?

It’s hard to emerge. As I read these interviews, they reminded me of a little bird, pecking like hell to get out of its egg and get on with things. We are right to be obsessed with the question of emergence. I’m also struck by the way the word “emergence” glides so effortlessly into the word “emergency.” There is no question that climbing out of that shell is essential to life; you will suffocate in there if you don’t make it out. 

But there are ways to get out of that shell. Harbison and his pantheon of playwrights have information about that. 

Theresa Rebeck

September 20, 2014

HOW I DID IT F-COV FINAL

The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary!

Today is The Sound of Music film’s 50th anniversary! The film’s US release date was March 2nd, 1965. In honor of the anniversary, here is an excerpt from Barry Monush’s new book, The Sound of Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Maria, the Von Trapps, and Our Favorite Things.

00123101When the Trapps Were Die Trapps

The First Cinematic Versions of the Trapp Story

Pretty much everyone who has worshipped the movie The Sound of Music is well aware that it first came to life as a Broadway stage musical. Less known is the fact that there are not one but two previous movies that cover the story of Maria and the Trapp Family Singers. Although both pictures did good business in West Germany, where they were produced (in 1956 and 1958, respectively), there was no great rush or desire on the part of American distributors to release them over here. The first picture, Die Trapp-Familie, did, however, play a very important role in the development of The Sound of Music, as it was screened by Mary Martin and her husband, producer Richard Halliday, and gave them the idea of a possible stage show, albeit one they initially envisioned consisting of the actual traditional songs the Trapps had sung, and not a full-scale original score. It was not until they approached Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II with the odd idea of the team perhaps contributing one new number that the more obvious idea came to fruition: why not have two of Broadway’s greatest songwriters create their own full score for the story?

2117739,zvp+zhJc1q9tL9rhxced78+KC+0J2tUgonBGucHykXn7Y6ndrWVt3TSkakTsbdK0YDjzV1xJTYwtQa_3w1eR_w==It was because of the eventual success on stage of The Sound of Music and 20th Century-Fox’s purchase of the rights to turn it into a movie that finally allowed some version of the German Trapp films to see the light of day on American cinema screens. Fox did not, however, picture the two movies (Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika was the second one) as separate “art-house” entities showing in select venues with their original German language soundtrack, instead wanting to present them to a wider audience. To this end the studio took the drastic step of not only dubbing the films into English but trimming out a great deal of footage (mainly from the second installment) and piecing them together as one movie, The Trapp Family. 

Event Alert: The Heidi Chronicles

The Heidi Chronicles will begin performances tonight at the Music Box Theatre! Tickets are available here. The production will star Golden Globe-winner and six-time Emmy Award-nominee Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men,” “Top of the Lake,” Speed-the-Plow), Emmy Award-nominee Jason Biggs (“Orange Is The New Black,” American Pie), Tony Award-nominee Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), and Tracee Chimo (Lips Together, Teeth Apart, “Orange Is The New Black,” Bad Jews).

Jan Balakian covers The Heidi Chronicles in her book Reading the Plays of Wendy WassersteinIn honor of the show’s opening night, here’s an excerpt exploring The Heidi Chronicles:

00314771The Heidi Chronicles dramatizes a romantic, witty, unmarried art history professor at Columbia University, Heidi Holland, approaching middle age and becoming disillusioned with the collapse of the idealism that shaped the sixties. Spanning twenty-three years, the play begins with Heidi’s slide lecture about the neglect of women artists and then travels back to a 1965 Chicago high school dance, where she meets the lifelong friends whose feminist values fluctuate. In college, Heidi and her friends become passionate feminists and liberals: we see them at a 1968 Eugene McCarthy rally in New Hampshire, a 1970 Ann Arbor consciousness-raising session, and a 1974 protest for women artists at the Art Institute of Chicago.

While Heidi remains committed to the ideals of feminism, her friends become swept away by the materialism and narcissism of the Reagan eighties, leading the vacuous lives they once denounced. Heidi feels stranded. At her 1986 high school alumni luncheon, the climax of the play, she confesses her feelings of abandonment and her disappointment with her peers: “I thought the point was we were all in this together.” By the end of the play in 1989, however, Heidi feels a little less alone and depressed in her New York apartment, having adopted a daughter as a single parent. She hopes that her daughter will feel the confidence and dignity that were the aims of the women’s movement.

This play grew out of Wasserstein’s strong feminist sentiments: “I wrote this play because I had this image of a woman standing up at a women’s meeting saying, ‘I’ve never been so unhappy in my life. . . .’ The more angry it made me that these feelings weren’t being expressed, the more anger I put into that play.” A comedy of manners, satirically depicting the concerns and conventions of a group of yuppies and a pair of witty lovers – Scoop and Heidi – the play exposes the marginalization of women artists, sexism in general, women’s loss of identity, an unromantic view of marriage, and the lost idealism of the second wave of feminism that began in the early sixties.

Unlike the first wave of feminism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which focused on officially mandated inequalities, like gaining women’s suffrage, the second wave encouraged women to understand the psychological implications of sexist stereotypes and opened the eyes of American women to careers and achievement, which they had lost in post-World War II America.

From the start, Heidi, standing in a lecture hall showing slides of paintings, addresses the neglect of womentheaterheidichronicles artists. She then points out the difference between the male and female sensibility: “Clara Peeters used more geometry and less detail than her mail peers.” This aesthetic difference becomes a metaphor for gender conflict throughout the play. Although female characters are frustrated that they derive their identities from men, they frantically seek boyfriends. Heidi treats this problem with humor as she segues from the art history lecture back to a 1965 high school dance: “This painting has always reminded me of one of those horrible high school dances. And you sort of want to dance, and you sort of want to go home, and you sort of don’t know what you want. So you hang around, a fading rose in an exquisitely detailed dress, waiting to see what might happen.”

During the 1965 dance, we hear the “The Shoop Shoop Song,” whose lyrics answered the question of anxious young American women: “How can I tell if he loves me so?” with “It’s in his kiss.” The song became a hit with Betty Everett’s 1963 album It’s in His Kiss. During this song, Heidi declines the All-American Chris Boxer’s invitation to dance the “Hully Gully” – a sixties line dance consisting of a series of quick steps called out by the MC. Her friend Susan, however, advises her on how to get a guy to dance with her: “Don’t look desperate. Men don’t dance with desperate women.” Eyeing a Bobby Kennedy lookalike, who is “twisting and smoking” in his “vest, blue jeans, tweed jacket and Wee-juns,” Susan quickly unbuttons her sweater, rolls up her skirt, and pulls a necklace out of her purse. She cautions Heidi, “. . . you’re going to get really messed up unless you learn to take men seriously,” and “The worst thing you can do is cluster. ‘Cause then it looks like you just wanna hang around with your girlfriend.”

Heidi is quick to point out that men are not such a big deal, that the only difference between men and women is biology: “. . . he can twist and smoke at the same time and we can get out of gym with an excuse called ‘I have my monthly.'” As Peter Patrone approaches Heidi, who is now reading a book, the Rolling Stones’ 1965 song “Play with Fire” plays, suggesting that Heidi is playing with fire by choosing not to be the representative 1965 girl. In another sense, playing with Peter Patrone is also “playing with fire”; although he may be Heidi’s soul mate, he is unattainable, because, we later find out, he is gay. Peter and Heidi enact their own melodrama, pretending they are star-crossed lovers on a Queen Mary cruise. Their meta-drama ironizes the 1965 high school dance; the sanitarium replaces the church wedding (Heidi declines Peter’s proposal, saying she covets her independence), and Peter and Heidi never kiss.

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The Latest from Bruce Miller: Acting on the Script

Applause Books and Limelight Editions have published five books by Bruce Miller on the acting craft. His most recent is Acting on the Script, which focuses on taking apart a script to find and execute the choices that help actors tell the story of the play and of their characters clearly and compellingly. Bruce addresses aspiring actors directly in his preface:
Script2

Since you are reading the words on this page, it is no great leap of logic to assume that you are an actor, or are trying to becoming one. And with an even smaller leap I might assume that you picked up this book because you are looking for answers—for some meaningful “how to’s” that will help you become the best actor you can be. So let me ask you a question right at the outset. What do you think it takes to become a first-rate actor? Take a moment to think about it. You may even want to jot your thoughts down. Doing so makes them more tangible and, in my opinion, more useful. In the course of reading this book you will be asked to do a lot of thinking. And one of the goals of this book is to make your thinking as useful as possible for you as an actor. Thinking is really what this book is all about—learning to think as an actor must. So—when you’re finished thinking, continue reading.

Talent may have been the first answer that came to mind, particularly if you’re just beginning your acting training. But talent can’t be learned; you either have it or you don’t. Talent is a gift—so if you’ve got it, say thank you and read on. Now, on the other hand, if you said craft, you identified something that can be learned and will help you use your talent more effectively. In addition to being an art form, acting is very much a craft, because it calls for skills that can be learned and mastered. Many if not most artists in the field have studied acting as a craft, even if they haven’t done so formally. And if you think you don’t have talent, or don’t have as much as you’d like, craft will help you appear as if you do.

So let’s refine our question: What are the skills that can be learned and mastered that can make you a good actor? If you’re familiar with Stanislavski, you may want to say finding emotional truth, or sense memory, or playing actions. If you’re familiar with the Method, you may say personal investment or emotional accessibility. Those of you familiar with the work of Sanford Meisner may say the ability to listen and react truthfully in the moment. Those of you familiar with Grotowski, Laban, or Michael Chekhov may say being able to access and use your body effectively. Others still might reference the vocal work of Linklater, Fitzmaurice, or Cicely Berry. Still others might say it’s all about relaxation. And if you’ve already had some training, you probably know that acting requires that you be skilled in all these areas. And that is why universities, conservatories, and acting studios everywhere feature workshops, courses, and, on the graduate level, even degrees in all these areas. And ultimately you will want to develop as many of these skills as you possibly can.

But there is another area of study you will need to be skilled in as well, and it is as important that you master this subject as any of the other skills listed—perhaps even more so. And yet it is a subject that you will find listed very sparely on curriculum menus. I certainly never had a course in it in graduate school, and most undergraduate programs offer it as a general course serving all theatre majors no matter what their particular focus. In the program where I teach, for instance, it has only been added as a separate course for BFA actors very recently. (Actually, I have been teaching the course for years, but we have finally begun calling it what it is.) What I’m talking about is script analysis and synthesis for actors. And we finally gave it its own title because, as one of the most important skills to be mastered, it deserves one.

Don’t get me wrong. Many programs offer a course or two in script analysis. But the way a lighting or set designer must learn to take apart a play and put it back together is different from what an actor must learn to do. And though writing and directing share some analytical requirements with acting, only actors are fully responsible for making the whole story work at every moment they are on stage. A general course in play analysis cannot give you all the skills you need to carry this enormous responsibility. Nor will it give you adequate time and opportunity to develop those skills so you can make them a part of your actor’s tool kit and be able to use them reliably and independently.

As a result, for many if not most actors, learning to analyze and synthesize a play becomes a byproduct of our preparation in scene study classes or part of our on-the-job training. Script analysis remains a supporting player, when it should have a leading role in the training process. This is a disturbingly wrong-headed treatment of one of our most important tools, and it leaves the actor in a similar position to that of the young college student forced to learn to read and write up to level after years of sneaking by in his or her primary education. An inability to understand and use a script effectively can turn acting into a hit-or-miss affair, where choices come out of trial and error rather than through a dependable application of craft.

Our primary job as actors is to tell the story of a play clearly, compellingly, and believably. In order to do that, we have to know what the story is and how to present it effectively. We have to know what the best choices are and how to make them. This is a skill that must be developed systematically, through practice and repetition. It must be a focus of attention, not the byproduct of other work. It is the foundation of all that we do when we work from a script. So why is it not taught with the same commitment as voice work or movement?

I can’t tell you how often I have seen even professional actors in class or auditions present work that makes no sense in the context of the play—choices that are simply not based on what the script is telling them they must show or do. On stage, those choices obscure the meaning of the play—and the actors come across as deficient along with the story. Unfortunately, they hardly ever realize that this is what is keeping them and their work from fully succeeding.

This book, like its partner, Actor’s Alchemy, will examine the relationship between the script and what an actor ultimately does on the stage or on screen. It is my belief that when actors learn to use their scripts with the appropriate analytical insights, they are better able to find and execute choices that will make the story they are telling clear and compelling, and make the work they do more believable as well. As you will see in the pages that follow, I am as concerned with the doing and feeling aspects of acting as the next acting teacher, but it is my belief that all your doings and feelings must be connected to what the playwright has set out. Therefore, the ability to analyze a script and make it the source for all the work you put on stage should be an essential part of your process.

In the chapters that follow, you will learn how to use a script in a logical, effective, and commonsense way. First you’ll discover an approach to the script that will serve you as an actor. Then you’ll begin to apply your new analytical tools in a short play. Finally, you’ll be able to strengthen those skills with a series of etudes (practice scenes) to work through in a scene study class. By the end of the book, you will have a process for reading and understanding a script as an actor must, and the skill set to determine the choices you must make if you are going to efficiently serve the material, your production, and the character you are playing. Included within these pages you will find:

  • A review of the basic tools of acting craft and how they are interconnected with analysis and synthesis
  •  An overview of your responsibility as a storyteller to make effective choices based on script work
  •  A set of guidelines for making effective choices
  •  A road map for making choices based on conflict and objective 
playing
  •  A process for finding the clues in a script
  •  A process for finding character through analysis and subsequent choices
  •  A system for effective scoring of a scene
  •  A complete analysis and scoring of a play by Joe Pintauro
  •  Eight original scenes written especially to help you become 
proficient at analysis and synthesis
  •  Useful commentary on all scenes to guide you through the 
process of analysis and synthesis
  •  Context to help you connect your analysis and synthesis 
choices to the other aspects of acting necessary for successful work
  • The repetition you will encounter as you progress through the book is intentional. When you have read and worked to the end, you may wish to consult individual chapters, and the quick refreshers you find there will help to ground you in the process as you focus on particular points or challenges. What is more, you are aiming for mastery—for the point where you no longer have to think about your process— and mastery requires plenty of practice and repetition. By exposing you to basic principles again and again, I hope to etch them into your memory so that they will be there when you need them.

Happy Halloween! A Zombie Film Excerpt

Happy Halloween! As the new season of The Walking Dead is going strong, we’ve decided to celebrate by giving you an excerpt from The Zombie Film!

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One of the highest rated shows on television, cable or broadcast, The Walking Dead is adapted from the popular graphic novel of the same name and with the same set-up: Rick Grimes is a former cop who has been in a coma for several months after being shot while on duty. When he wakes, he discovers that the world has been taken over by zombies and that he seems to be the only person still alive. Returning home to discover his wife and son missing, he heads for Atlanta to search for his family.

By the end of its third year episodes, The Walking Dead had refocused on the same ironies Romero had suggested in 1968. The core group of survivors, with whom the audience had traveled through zombie land for two seasons, WDhas taken refuge in a prison guarded by implacable ghouls. It’s a bit larger than the farmhouse in Night of the
Living Dead but the emotional situation and the bickering amongst themselves is much the same. What’s more their main conflict is no longer with the “walkers” or “biters” but another, larger group of humans ensconced in a fortified town, who are more numerous, better armed, and lead by a sociopathic control freak that needs to kill them so that he can continue to rule his little world unchallenged. While that character may not yet have become Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman in Land of the Dead, he is getting close.

Zombie Apocalypse (2010), Zombie Apocalypse (the television movie), and Zombie Apocalypse: Redemption (both 2011) reflect and exploit the growing millennial anxiety around an increasingly dangerous world and the fascination with zombies on the Internet as well as in the news. All three rely heavily on the same low-budget rendering of a dystopic future, the zombie world established from Night of the Living Dead through 28 Days Later in which humans are outnumbered by zombies and in a continual state of anxiety and outright combat, much like the “war against terrorism.” In a period context, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012) hoped to coat tail on the success of the bigger-budgeted Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in the same year. Unfortunately neither met with either critical or financial success.

Even as a spate of ultra-low-budget projects over the last decade have infested the genre (and our Filmography) as thoroughly as the aimless hordes in The Walking Dead have overrun the Deep South, some filmmakers have found an alternative to the standard “don’t get bitten before you shoot those snarling zombies in the head” scenarios without needing a lot more money.

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