This book, originally published as Acting Narrative Speeches, is a manual of the ancient, primal art of the actor as storyteller. I have purchased the rights to it, and offer it here in the spirit of open access. In the preface, I mention five reasons for writing it.
1. The skills required for performing speeches that tell a story – which occur in virtually every theatrical period and genre – are essential for the complete actor.
2. Narrative speeches are an excellent training ground for both the experienced and the novice actor.
3. The approach to narrative speeches developed in this book has implications for re-understanding all of acting.
4. Actors need principles and methods for shaping speeches of every sort.
5. Actors need a systematic approach to creating conflict within characters.
Acting Narrative Speeches:The Actor as Storyteller is based on a semester-long university course that evolved from a professional workshop developed thirty years ago.
I imagine that the present book may serve actors in several contexts. One is the classroom, where teachers can discover their own way to guide their particular students through the exercises, exploring many of them in class and assigning others for performance in subsequent sessions.
Many actors may wish to explore narrative speeches on their own, and I have written the book for them as well. New topics are introduced by multiple examples that a group should explore on its feet; if an individual is working alone, it is important to try different choices for each exercise, so as to grasp the open-ended possibilities. I have suggested variations and contrasting choices that will introduce every reader of this book to the range of what I have learned from students, from fellow actors, and from my own performance experience.
The pedagogical limitations of working on scenes and speeches out of context were the impetus to creating a course focused on roles. All acting choices ought to be guided by the intentions of a full production, but class work often fails to deal with the big picture of how an actor goes about creating the arc of a performance from start to finish. It is in production that actors have the opportunity to work on the whole of a role. One of my goals in creating this course was to provide actors with formats and exercises that would allow them to work on a role without being in rehearsal. The other was to share with actors the power and coherence of a thematic approach to performance. Developing a Role aims to teach actors how to translate what a play is about into acting choices. Ensemble actors need to be inside the same play – that is, they must share an understanding of what matters in the world created by the script. They should, moreover, act on that understanding by making choices inspired by the issues that informed the writing and are embedded in it. The basic idea is quite simple and too much neglected: actors should act what a play is about.