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!

Cannon’s Questions

Still grabbing moments to read this book, in between the madness!

I thinks it’s very instructive as well as interesting.
Today I read about Dee Cannon’s ideas behind researching your character, and her list of 10 Questions. (It is suggested that depending on time, you might not be able to do all 10.. just be sensible…)

Here are Cannon’s 10 Questions to finding/researching/connecting with  your character.

Essentially these questions are there to lead you to understand the situational, emotional and psychological elements of the role you are going to play… nifty!

For example;
No. 9 – HOW will I get what I want? (Choices) – Explore the psychological effect you want to have on the other actor(s) in order to get what you want. To beg. To entice. To charm. NOT focussing on how you say the line but how you action it. “actioning your text“(P52)

“This technique allows the actor to be free and truthful without playing external emotions. It’s really about what you don’t say ad trusting that actions speak louder than words.” (P53)

When I am playing a role, even in rehearsal, I automatically refer to my character  as myself, or myself as the character – either way, it’s in the first person. I’ve not really thought about it, but Cannon digs into it a little in this chapter. She suggests that if we are discussing (and I suppose even when thinking as/about) our character, referring to them in the third person immediately creates a psychological gulf between you and them… baring in mind you have spent your time identifying with them, or “bringing the character closer to you“(P62), if you speak of your character in third person – in an instant you can undo all your hard work, or at the very least send yourself 3 (or 4) steps back. Makes sense.

I’m sure there will be more from this one!

Some Audition Advice from Dee Cannon


Just started reading this one, I am only about 30 pages in and already found it both informative and very reassuring.

Her opinion on how monologues should be approached for auditions is very simple and makes a whole lot of sense. She gives some great advice on how to make the most of the limited time you have leading up to an audition/if you find yourself in a sight-reading situation.

Whether you are a complete beginner, or someone who is well practiced – the first section of this book is very encouraging with regards to auditions.

So I would say, if you are nervous about a Drama School audition, your first ever professional audition, or you want to see if there is another way to approach your next one – give this a read.

I am sure there is going to be a lot of good stuff in the rest of Dee Cannon’s book. I will keep you posted. Until then, here is a useful extract on choosing the right monologue:


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!