There are all kinds of theatrical products and services that an actor can purchase for the ostensible use of improving his craft. In most cases, I think one should hold on to one’s money. I am a firm believer that practice, conversation, and dedication work faster at improving one’s abilities than anything that can be bought and paid for.
However, there are a few things that generally require a monetary investment that I would recommend for the serious actor at any level.
To begin with, books. Books are never a waste of money. Any book worth reading is worth buying, as they say. Though the local library is a free alternative to buying many books, I always feel an actor should have at least a small library of theatre books of his own, to refer back to and enjoy over and over again. I am not a fan of textbooks, or books who espouse one methodology as superior. However, biographies of stage actors, books by famous stage directors, and those on stage history make great additions to one’s collection. As do books that talk about the craft more informally.
And of course copies of plays.
I also advocate spending money on dialect related products and services. Outside of the major acting metropoli, professional dialect coaches are hard to locate. With the internet, however, tapes and CDs that offer dialect instruction are not. Don’t spend a fortune, but do research and find some products that can make you familiar with some of the more common American accents that appear on stage. (Southern, Midwestern, New England, and the variety of New York City dialects.)
Outside of the home of the brave, I’d suggest various different British dialects in particular. (Yes, there is more than one type of British accent as well.) German characters seem to make their way into a lot of plays on the community stage, so that may be worth the investment as well. One can of course specialize, if one has a particular affinity for plays with certain characters.
The point is that knowing how to truly reproduce an accent adds levels of believability to your performances right off the bat. Few things are more distracting that an actor who is trying with all his might to sound like he is from somewhere that he is clearly not. (I find that bad Brooklyn accents tend to be the most atrocious of all, for some reason.)
Another investment worth making also involves something that tends to look very fake in many productions. That is stage combat. I am not saying that you need to develop a third degree black belt, or know how to fly into a breakaway window to be a good actor. But learning to pull punches, mask kicks, and fall convincingly not only make it easier for audiences to suspend disbelief, it helps the actor become more familiar with his own body. Being in shape never hurt any actor, and one of the best ways to get fit as an actor to engage in something that you can use on stage.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it will vary depending on the play, and the actor’s aspirations. Yet the point I am making here is that there are a lot of people asking for a would-be actor’s money, all with promises of making one better on stage. It just so happens that these are the items and services I have found can be most useful to the most actors on a regular basis, and are hence worth the cash.
(Originally appeared on showbizradio.net on October 21, 2009. )