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An Improvised Life: A Memoir by [Arkin, Alan]
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4.5 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Length: 216 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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

Product Details

  • File Size: 394 KB
  • Print Length: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 1, 2011)
  • Publication Date: March 1, 2011
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004M18NES
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,147 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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By Mars on December 20, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Oh my. I'm so glad I bought this book. I can see him writing it. Really, it is an improvised life, the dual tasks of finding his art of what he was clearly put on this earth to do, like each of us has but he heard the call at age 5, and finding himself in this terribly short life we have. Even if we live to be 100 it's short baby. As much as I'd like to hear pages and pages of how things went filming the In-Laws, to me, a big film fan, the greatest comedy ever, or Catch-22 and Grosse Point Blank, well, it goes on. I confess, at this moment I've only finished half the little book but I'm am so filled with joy hearing his journey in life and as an actor tho, the way he writes it, it sounds like his life as an actor was literally everything to him and he only belatedly began the, as he tells us and as is true, began the other crucial part of this fragile life, growth and learning of who we are. I tend to sometimes be envious of those from other times. I missed seeing Jimi Hendrix by about a year, I was 15 in 1969 and mom wouldn't let me go to shows yet. Alan talks about being friends with Groucho Marx and I've enjoyed a lifetime of Marx Brothers films and can only be joyous about Alan and Groucho's friendship in the way back time (that is, before I was born, or, in their friendship's case, when I was a yoot in the 60's. Instead, as with all books and all art, film in particular, plays, we are transported to a moment in time. We are allowed to enter someone's real moment in time. Whether it is fiction or depiction of reality or even filmed documentary, there is only the moment in which we exist. Actors portray someone else, even if it's themselves which I'm sure is rare.Read more ›
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