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An Improvised Life: A Memoir Paperback – March 1, 2011


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An Improvised Life: A Memoir + Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players + Improvise.: Scene from the Inside Out
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681966X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306819667
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #877,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

More a reflection on acting than a straightforward memoir, Academy Award–winner Arkin's musing on the creative process is a welcome window into the mind of an artist. After declaring to his father at age five that he wanted to be an actor, Arkin spent his Brooklyn childhood absorbing as much as he could from both everyday life and any opportunity he had to see films and plays. A move to L.A. in junior high cemented Arkin's performer dreams. As a student at Bennington's theater program, Arkin also performed with the earliest incarnation of Chicago's now famous Second City troupe, where he learned to appreciate the power of improvisation. Broadway and film roles followed, with Arkin integrating improvisation into his performances whenever possible, a skill he would hone over the years and later teach. The improv workshops—which Arkin taught and stresses were not "acting" workshops—began at Bennington and were also held at the Institute for American Indian Arts in New Mexico, where Arkin now lives. In this engaging and instructive book, he describes his own intuitive approach to acting and the ways in which he coaxed tentative workshop participants out of their shells. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ever since he was five, Academy Award�winner Arkin knew he would be an actor, feeling an �unquenchable need� to turn himself into �something other than what I was.� He became a self-described �film junkie addict� but realized that if he wasn�t careful, his habit of pretending to be someone else all the time and his movie obsession could ruin his life. Indeed, at one point he realized he had no inner life, had become �an innocent bystander� to himself. Arkin recalls his folksinging days as a member of the Tarriers, examines the improvisational exercises he practiced as a member of Chicago�s Second City, comments on his move from theater to film, and offers bemused insights into the notion of celebrity. Arkin also describes his attempts to better understand himself through a combination of therapy and self-education. This perfectly calibrated memoir is less an autobiography and more a primer on the process of becoming an actor. As such, actors of all levels and film and theater buffs will appreciate Arkin�s candid discussion of the creative process both from an acting and a directing perspective. --June Sawyers

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Mr. Arkin provides so may fascinating stories from his own life which will lead the reader to his own self-examination.
Johnny
I was amazed at how quickly I read through the book, partially due to the flowing style of writing, but also due to my interest in Alan Arkin as an actor.
TBo
Each chapter was consistently interesting and it gave me much perspective regarding Arkin and surprisingly some perspective about my own life.
Crabigail Cassidy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By TBo on May 1, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very informative and entertaining read, written in a very candid style. Arkin shows by story how he has progressed along the path to spontaneous, yet researched, performance strategies. The many situations that provided the backdrop for insights are detailed in easily read segments. This book is somewhat of a masterpiece in writing/editing, in that the essence of each vignette comes across fully, with a minimal amount of text. I was amazed at how quickly I read through the book, partially due to the flowing style of writing, but also due to my interest in Alan Arkin as an actor. Arkin presents a very personal take on the various challenges and obstacles inherent in the acting profession, but more importantly, he shows the parallels between those and the challenges and obstacles of daily life. I highly recommend this book for everybody, whether you know who Alan Arkin is or not. This is a very inspirational book and I'm grateful to have found it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Johnny on March 20, 2011
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Alan Arkin provides his own life as a study in Improvisation. This is a moving, touching and honest self portrait. Mr. Arkin provides so may fascinating stories from his own life which will lead the reader to his own self-examination. An added plus is that Mr. Arkin also gives readers an insight into his powerful Improvisation workshops. It was hard to put this book down. A very fast read. There's something for everyone in this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Crabigail Cassidy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
As a long time fan of Alan Arkin, I am always impressed and in wonder by the talent and seemingly spontaneous reactiveness of this man in his performances. Like his screen and stage performances, shows a thoughtfullness and understanding of how his life has taken many interesting yet not always expected turns that has enriched him as an individual and as an actor.
Not surprisingly, Arkin mimics the sparseness and directness that are found in his performances and writes concisely for impact. This is not a long book, but it covers so many aspects of his life and his work that it is full of unique gems of wisdom as well as priceless stories about an actor's life and how often one carries life's knowledge and experiences to their work and vice versa.
Each chapter was consistently interesting and it gave me much perspective regarding Arkin and surprisingly some perspective about my own life.
Seeing the human experience through Arkin's own life was revelatory and explains to a certain extent why he is so good at what he does. This is an interesting book and unbelievably easy to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By pk opines on November 3, 2011
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Alan Arkin has always intrigued me. Decades ago, his onscreen intensity was constant and often volatile. The intensity abides, but these days, it has a more considered quality. I chalked it up to the kind of self-possession that comes with the knocks I imagined Arkin experienced. When I stumbled across his memoir, I figured hey, 190 pages, what have I got to lose?

The book. is. wonderful. Starting with the cover photo, Arkin's genuine pleasure speaks volumes. He writes with such openness and generosity that I hated to put the book down. I read it a chapter or two at a time as much to absorb his wisdom as to prolong the experience.

Arkin's insights on acting have given me a new perspective on the craft and a fuller appreciation of a successful performance. Willing readers can readily take away useful life lessons. This is a terrific book by any standard.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By W. Upchurch on September 26, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book at the recommendation of a mutual friend (I don't know Alan Arkin, myself), when I asked him for resources for a study about Acting and Personal Transformation. Every chapter has a paragraph or whole anecdote that touches me where I live, and inspires me toward where I want to live from.
By the last chapters, I would say that he gives the impression that the vulnerability and risk of living an improvised life is far more sane than playing for predictable certainty. I know simplified statements like that are proffered all the time, now.. but this book brings that alive.
If you want to give inspiration to someone, get them this book; if you want to drink a fresh draught of freedom, re-read this book from time to time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mars on December 20, 2012
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I loved reading this book and recommended it to others. Alan Arkin writes like one would speak, telling interesting and insightful stories as if we were all sitting around at an intimate cocktail party sharing moments of importance or just ones that were fun and entertaining. For those of us interested in the art of acting or the processes behind the scenes in the Show Biz world, it's even more interesting. Mr. Arkin's process of becoming an actor is so interesting and supportive of any type of artist. In fact, the whole books supports the process of becoming an artist, which is such an important lesson to remember.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing more about Mr. Arkin, the entertainment business, NYC back in the day, the art of becoming an actor and the art of simply becoming yourself.
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Format: Paperback
Memoir should not be a tricky word. A memoir is the memories of the writer. The problem with Alan Arkin's memoir is that it is more of a thinly-disguised actor's manual and less of a memoir. Now, I understand that the book that I would want to read would be an account of Arkin's theatrical and cinematic triumphs, personal failures and accomplishments and maybe some anecdotes, good or bad, about the incredible co-stars he worked with. Arkin states that he knew at the age of five that he wanted to be an actor and, as a teen, he moved with his family to California before becoming one of four men in the acting program at the all-girl's school Bennington College. After that he and his wife and son move to New York City where he tries to get acting gigs before eventually joining the first cast of Chicago's Second City. After this the book becomes a repetitive series of lessons on acting and improvisation, with little or no references to his myriad of acting successes. For someone who seems so comedic in so many of his memorable performances (SUNSHINE, ARGO, IN-LAWS etc) he is quite dry and academic in his writing. The last third of the book is dedicated to improvisational workshops he runs with his wife, with large swaths devoted to the minutia of the workshop participants. Each individual is allowed to write the memoir that they want; I just wish it was the one I wanted to read.
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