How To Stop Acting – Harold Guskin

Cover Photo


As an actor there is a sort of threshold we cross, as we approach the character. That being the moment we speak the words aloud – when we take them off the page. He quotes Glenn Close discussing her shyness when moving to this moment, she describes it as having a “shyness in relationship to the character”(P3) it can be like “breaking some sort of sound barrier” (P4)

Guskin says; if we can trust ourselves, and trust that whatever comes out of our mouth (& mind) will be useful & valuable – it will allow us to approach the character with a real creative freedom. To connect with the words from our instinct. He says, Approaching the text from an analytical point of view only unlocks the intellectual part of our exploration, which can be restrictive as it doesn’t allow you to be in the moment with the character and the words they are saying. By approaching the words without analysis or forethought means an actor can “begin his exploration from within the character” (P5)

Guskin suggests that ‘Taking it off the page’ is not to be used as a technique, as such – I take from his writing that it is bass line to work from rather than something to do letter-by-letter. Taking it off the page involves breathing is as you look at your line – take in as little or as much as you can (don’t worry about how much you can recall) look up as you breathe out and say the words straight away, while you’re still in the moment. This apparently enables us to by-pass our conscious mind, and speak the line/phrase/word  from our subconscious, from our instinctive reaction. This avoids the feeling that we have to say it how we believe it ‘should’ be said – which can create a falseness, that we are ‘showing’ how we feel… rather than actually feeling it. (In this, his view is similar to Meisner – in that if we feel it, it is right at that moment and we should not try to manipulate it to fit what ‘should be’. We should not try and ‘correct’ it, or at least that’s my understanding so far…)

He says that if the reaction does not feel right – trust that next time you come to it, your instinctive reaction will change. At this point, you are not looking for answers or absolutes, you are “…in a state of discovery triggered by the only thing we know for sure about the character – what the character says” (p9)

I can see that if you are trying to find the character solely through text analysis and research, the end result could easily be 2D – like a really good illustration of what they should be, rather than a well-rounded, ‘truthful’ character. By worrying about how words ‘should’ be said, you place a distance between the yourself and the character, especially in the explorative stages.

I’m just getting to the bit where he goes into suggestions for practice… Looking forward to reading more and having a go!

Cuts Cuts Cuts…

To whom it might (or might not) concern,

I’m going to get straight to it; what are you doing to the arts?!

I have so much I want to say on this, but I will keep it brief and to the point (as much as possible)

I understand that savings need to be made somehow, somewhere and that you can’t please everyone… however…

“Phasing out art grants, saving £433,000 by 2020”

Cutting 100% of funding to the arts is a very destructive move. How can you expect the industry to survive a blow that brutal?! That’s not saving, that’s scoring out one of the UK’s most valued industries. Have you considered how much of the economy is supported by companies, individuals, organisations and work that comes from the artists you have decided to cut free?

It is not just about the work you see on the “surface”; the show, the gallery, the concert, the final design, the performance… it is about people’s livelihoods, their identity, their family and their community.

I would argue that, although you appear to be saving £433,000 – the thriving Arts culture in Bath… may not be around to continue to draw tourists to these areas, and support the local community. I suggest that this saving is short-sighted. Yes, you don’t give that money away, but equally you do not get a return on the investment in the culture of your town/city.

If you review the funding you have awarded even just 2016/17 you have stipulated yourselves that the projects will achieve “economic impact in the city” [See here] and – in the case of the Arts at the Heart of the Royal United Hospital, that project will “contribute to staff training and development, activities that enhance the healing environment and contribute to improving therapeutic outcomes.”

For some people, the Arts are a saving grace, they have a significant positive impact on mental health. See this article as just one example:  In your own words, the projects you fund may use “arts activity to promote health and wellbeing.” [See here]

In summary – I fail to see how cutting 100% of the funding to the Arts is a step forward. I believe the Arts are at the heart of our society here in the UK, whether that be in the form of spectacular performances and galleries that attract visitors from all over the globe; or employing hundreds of thousands of people across the country; or workshops/lessons/courses that are solely created to help vulnerable people in our communities – and everything in-between.

Some other views on cuts to the Arts:

Meisner – On Acting

BOOK: Sanford Meisner – On Acting

Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell

Firstly I want to say that I really enjoyed this book!

I can really recommend it, even just as way to understand where he was coming from with his exercises and ideas. It also made me to reflect on my own thoughts about what acting is, and how to achieve the best I can in the roles I play.


“[acting is…] living truthfully in imagined circumstances” [P15]

“The playwright gives you what to say. Your job as an actor is to fill the role with life” [P49]

“The definition of acting is the reality of doing” [P24]

It is hard to put into words, to really get to the bottom of what acting is – is it ‘pretending’ or is it ‘living’? What is a ‘character’ if you are ‘living truthfully’ from your own impulses and instincts? I enjoyed reading about how his students grappled with his concepts of character and truth, because at times they seemed contradictory.

There is a wonderful analogy of the relationship between text and emotion. Where he describes the text as a canoe which is taken down the river [emotion] and how the journey the canoe [text] takes is ultimately at the will of the river. [P115]

He talks about never coming into a scene empty [without emotion/intension] and that preparation in order to do this is key to a truthful performance.

‘Cry, then talk. Don’t talk and then expect to cry’ [P199-200]

He writes about the important difference between showing emotion and feeling it and how that impacts you as an actor and you relationship with the audience. [p84] His driving force seemed to me to be all about living a truth on stage – ultimately giving the audience no choice but to be taken in by you (believe in you) and to be carried along with the story/characters’ journey. It reminded me of something David Mamet says in his book ‘True or False’, that if an audience can see you don’t mean what you say or what you do then they feel that they are being lied to, instantly alienating them from the whole experience.

I would have liked him to have written more about why and how he believes ‘emotion memory’ can be less effective than ‘imagined memory’ – I understand how both can be effective in their own way, but he seemed to think the imagined could be even more powerful, I would interested to know why.

All-in-all I really like this book and I will read it a second time, because I’m sure I’ll find something new!