In her introduction to Respect for Acting
, actress and teacher Uta Hagen talks about a time when she herself had no respect for the art of acting. "I used to accept opinions such as: 'You're just born to be an actor'; 'Actors don't really know what they're doing on stage'; 'Acting is just instinct--it can't be taught.'" But this attitude of "you got it or you don't" is fundamentally one that denigrates the craft, as she points out. Great actors do not perform effortlessly, or merely through learning the appropriate tricks and cheats to manipulate an audience. Great acting is about the difficult fusion of intellect and action--about sincerely and truthfully connecting to the moment, your fellow actors, and the audience--and Hagen's thoughtful and profound book contains a series of observations and exercises to help an actor do just that. Her prose style is admirably clear and filled with examples from her own lengthy career both as a performer and in the classroom. While her exercises in sense memory and basic objects skirt close to the sort of self-absorption that followers of "the Method" are routinely accused of, they are presented clearly and with a focus on practical results. And in such places as her chapter "Practical Problems," which includes discussions of stage nerves and how to stay fresh in a long run, her straightforward advice is invaluable. --John Longenbaugh
From the Inside Flap
"I have attempted to break down all the areas in which you can work and search for realities in yourself which serve the character and the play…. Put your instincts and sense of truth, your understanding of human realities to use while probing and grappling with the content and the roots of the material. Be specific and real in your actions, and they will communicate your artistic statement. Bring your universal understanding of the present to the present … as a real artist."
At the invitation of Herbert Berghof, Uta Hagen joined the faculty of the HB Studio in 1947. Since then, teaching has always been a challenge for her, as well as for the many prominent actors whom she has helped to develop. For many years, she has been asked to write a book. Now, here it is: an account of her own struggle with the techniques of acting and based on her teachings.
The first part, "The Actor," deals with techniques that set an actor in motion physically, verbally, and emotionally. It deals with the actor's concept of himself and with the art of acting, as well as with the ethics that have made the theater what it is today and what it could be tomorrow. Part Two, "The Object Exercises," offers specific and detailed work for the actor, covering a broad range of his problems. Part Three, "The Play and the Role," concerns itself with the definition of the play and identification with the character the actor will undertake. It also covers practical problems, the rehearsal, "style," and communication. Respect for Acting is a book for people who respect (or wish they could) the theater on both sides of the footlights, for actor and audience who favor truth in a creative process. The constructive stages of work delve into performance as well as into the issues surrounding a necessary change in the theater. It is all quite authentic, since Uta Hagen has never hesitated to throw herself into a good fight for a better offering in the theater in "the time of her life."