Ritual, Religion, and Theatre
Ritual, religion, and theatre are three functions which have been intertwined since the beginning of human society. Ritual is a form of magic in that it helps focus the imagination, and imagination is the very nuts and bolts of magical work. Ritual is also linked to religion because it gives the opportunity to express in a solid, physical way the numinous joy and spiritual power one feels at times, especially during important life events or at certain seasons of the year. As for theatre, the peforming arts originated in ritual and have always been deeply tied to religion, either as an important and respected part of a culture's spiritual life or as a disturbing and forbidden threat to a society's moral fabric. Both views, however, recognise the primal quality and power of this most volatile art.
Aside from its uses as a tool in religion ritual, there is a magical quality in the actual process of acting and performance that is very similar to many magical and spiritual workings. Theatre can let us experience the forms of the imagination here in the present in a way that artwork or written literature can't. David Cole likens the world of the play to the primitive concept of the "time of origins", the "dream-time", and compares acting both to shamanism and the experience of spiritual possession. The actor makes a journey into the worlds of the imagination, an inner journey into her own psyche to find those aspects which correspond to the people and actions of the play. Then there comes a point in the acting process when a reversal takes place, and the images the actor has journeyed so far to find come rushing back upon her, using her body to become present to the audience. The actor experiences a state of double consciousness, in which she is fully the character she has discovered, but at the same time is also herself, watching the performance as a removed spectator.
This state of double being, of acting and watching oneself act, is strangely similar to the feeling one sometimes gets in deep meditation, when the realization occurs that one's thoughts are being observed by another, deeper Self. When an actor is truly committed, he is totally in the present, acting and feeling a truthful flow of emotions and impulses on a moment-to-moment basis and expressing them freely. The only way to reach those peak moments is to fully and deeply experience each small action leading up to the climax, which then unfolds of its own accord, sometimes touching depths of one's unconscious to cause both fear and joy.
Theatre, like ritual, involves direct, personal contact with the audience; in fact, without the audience, the act of creation in the theatre is incomplete. The reaction of the audience is a part of the creative act, for the audience also contributes energy to the performance and helps shape it into its final form. Similarly, the goal of ritual is to stir and shape the thoughts and emotions of the participants to achieve a desired goal, either celebratory or magical. Thus, a ritual practitioner must first be able to control and shape her own emotions and imagination, and then to similarly inspire and guide the responses of others. Even in a solitary ritual, one is joined by an "audience" comprised of the Gods, Goddesses, and other entities one has summoned.
In modern Ásatrú, much emphasis has been placed on historical and archæological research, in an effort to recreate our traditions as accurately as possible. While this is commendable and necessary, it is equally important to be able to use this information as skillfully and effectively as possible. Training in acting will help you translate our past traditions into living, meaningful rituals for the present. Training, technique, and practice will also relieve your body and mind of mundane worries like how to speak and where to move next and what to do with your hands, and free you to fully experience the numinous sensations of a spiritual event.
A teacher of mine once said that if an actor accomplished nothing more than to be seen and heard, he was already ahead of 90% of the rest of his profession, and the same could probably be said of most ritual workers. Since one of the goals of a ritual is to stir the thoughts and emotions of all the participants, those people obviously must be able to observe all that happens if they are to be so stimulated. Unless you are doing a solo ritual, you will need to make some effort to speak loudly and clearly enough to be heard by the others. Even small rituals require some attention to this, not only because modern speech habits tend not to emphasize good diction, but also because ritual speech is different from our everyday speech and therefore harder for people to comprehend. The larger the number of people in the ritual, the more technique is required to project the full intensity of the experience to everyone.
Any basic book or course on speech will teach you the fundamentals you need to know. One key point is to remember to breathe from the diaphragm, a muscle located in the region of the floating ribs. People sometimes advise you to "stick your stomach out" when you breathe, but this doesn't accurately describe the movement of the diaphragm. I find it better to concentrate more on the lower ribs expanding out all the way around the ribcage to the back and to keep the buttocks tight. The ribs then remain slightly expanded while the diaphragm muscles press in and up as the air is released during song or speech. This is a very athletic process when done correctly, and you can easily pull a rib muscle unless you practise breathing exercises regularly and "warm up" just before a ritual begins. Diaphragmatic breathing not only supports your voice with more air than shallow chest breathing, it has the added benefit of removing tension from the neck and jaw, tension which could otherwise strain your vocal cords and make your voice thin and tight.
By using supported breathing, one can increase volume without trying to "force" louder sounds out from the throat, which is potentially harmful to the voice and cannot be sustained (as you have no doubt discovered yelling at football games or rock concerts). Besides the physical aspect of voice control, however, there are mental tricks that improve your voice for no apparent logical reason. For example, one exercise is to imagine you are projecting your voice to different places as you speak: to a person right in front of you, to a space ten feet away, to the very back of a large hall. Oddly enough, just visualizing your audience being farther away can increase the volume of your voice. Another exercise is to visualize yourself "speaking" from different parts of your body - your head, your torso, your pelvic area, etc. You will find that the quality of your voice changes subtly. By the same token, visualizing yourself speaking and breathing from your diaphragm lets you reach down into your center for that voice, and that voice will be a fuller and freer one.
The concept of being seen in a ritual involves both how you move and where and when you move. People watching a ritual need to see what is most important to see at any given time. On the most basic level, it is usually good for the audience to be able to see the person who is speaking or who should be the focus of the action. Again, the more people you have in a ritual, the more technique is required. Even in a ritual of only two or three, you need to know who moves when, and where, and if anyone needs to get out of their way when they do move. Some feel that "choreographing" a ritual removes its spontaneity and thus some of its spiritual integrity, but there is not much spirituality in having people milling about and running into each other.
Besides knowing the basic blueprint of movement, each performer needs to have mastery over the quality of her movement - it should be controlled, graceful, pleasing to look at, and appropriate for the role that person has taken on. First of all, the body should be kept in good condition - good diet, enough sleep, and regular exercise. In addition, activities that improve posture, grace, rhythm, and limberness can be useful in training the body for ritual and theatre. Some examples include dancing, gymnastics, fencing, yoga, and many martial arts.
As with vocal practice, the goal in training the body is to eliminate unwanted muscular tension, which not only mars the image presented to the onlookers, but inhibits the free flow of emotions and energy during the ritual. An actor or ritual performer should be able to get his body to do what he wishes it to do, and not to do anything without his conscious intent. Basic relaxation exercises before a ritual will help. One of the most common and useful practices is to begin with the face and head and work down to the feet, consciously tensing and relaxing each separate part of the body. Other limbering exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, or even the warm-up exercises used before jogging or other athletic pursuits, are also useful. Whatever other work you do, remember that your voice and body need to be warmed up a bit before embarking on something as demanding as a ritual, so try to do at least a little breathing and vocalization and some limbering exercises before beginning a performance.
In addition to physical technique, there are mental disciplines necessary for acting which help you learn to think and concentrate in a special way. Many of these practices are also useful in ritual and magic. Most modern techniques of acting, and there are many of them, have some relationship to the technique of Stanislavsky, whether their inventors admit it or not. Konstantin Stanislavsky was a Russian who co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 and developed what came to be known as "the Method" in reaction to the clichés and overacting typical of the theatre of his time. His goal was nothing less than giving the actor conscious control of her inspiration and creativity.
The key to this method is the use of physical actions. You cannot control your feelings, but you can control your actions. If you fully and sincerely put your attention on each individual action you perform in a play or a ritual, the emotions, true and real emotions, will happen. You may have noticed that if you shout and stomp and wave your arms around, you can actually make yourself feel angry. Similarly, you can make yourself feel happy if you laugh, dance, or hug people, and sad if you mope around brooding.
Action in the context of acting includes not only superficial movement, but also the emotional conflict in the play, the goals, and intentions of the characters. Each sentence and movement is done for a reason, people in plays never just "talk". They all want things, want them intensely, are willing to go to great lengths to get them. If a boy says "good morning" to his girl, he may be blaming her, seducing her, interrogating her, apologizing to her, or some other strong "action"; he is never just making conversation.
Every action in a play is reciprocated - one person acts, the other people react to what he has done and then act themselves. Each small movement or line has a small action or intention; the sum of these becomes the intention for a section, then a scene, then an act, until eventually there evolves a goal that covers the whole play. When one person's goals are blocked by another person's goals, conflict arises, and the action is shaped by the various attempts to "win". These objectives build to a climax, which eventually resolves itself in either union or further division, or else it is interrupted by some outside event (Francis Hodge, Play Directing: Analysis, Communication, and Style, p.36).
In addition to having clear intentions and pursuing them with full commitment, you must also be aware of the other people onstage. You must make sure that they really hear you and that you hear them, that you truly communicate with one another. Try to avoid mechanically repeating your lines and actions according to some prearranged plan you developed in rehearsal; rather, take in what your fellow performers give to you and let it affect you and your subsequent actions. For example, if your character very much wanted to pick up a jewel and take it away, and another character pulled a gun on you, you wouldn't just doggedly go ahead with your original intention (well, you could, but the play would be quickly over). In real life, most people would take the gun into account and change their tactics, perhaps try to trick or wheedle the other person into letting them have what they wanted.
To give an example that could be part of a mythical drama, in the story of the mead-theft, Odin's overall goal is to bring back the magic mead of poetry to Asgard. On his way, he tricks the serfs into killing themselves with the intention of ingratiating himself to the giant Baugi, he pressures Baugi to beg the mead from his brother Suttung, he then coerces Baugi into helping him break into the mountain where the mead is kept, and he seduces the giantess Gunnlod so she'll let him have the mead. All these small objectives are fueled by the overall goal of getting the mead. Perhaps Odin falls a little bit in love with Gunnlod, but he leaves her anyway to get the mead - that's an inner conflict between his desire for her and his desire for the mead. Note how much more interesting that scenario is than if Odin doesn't give a rap about Gunnlod. The richer and more complex you make your goals, the more conflict, and hence the more emotion and energy you'll have. And always make your goals the most important they can be. You don't just sort of want that mead, you desire it more than anything else in the world.
This may all sound too analytical and complicated, but if you can figure out exactly what your character is doing, what she wants at every point in the play, if you pursue these intentions strongly and fully, and if you also let yourself be truly receptive to the actions of all the other characters and let these affect how you pursue your goals, you will not worry about whether you look silly or how to hold your hands or if you will sound angry enough during your next big speech - you will begin to think and feel like this other person you're playing and something real will happen onstage.
All this takes a tremendous amount of concentration. You need to concentrate on the objects and people onstage without being distracted. You must use your imagination to see and hear things as your character would. You must constantly be thinking what your character would be thinking, reacting as he would react to each word and event, redefining your goals at each step, for the entire time you're onstage, whether you're speaking or not. This makes visualizing a red triangle on a white background seem simple. But this is the same quality of attention required by ritual - that you should fully concentrate on each small act, recognise its significance, and react to what others say and do for the entirety of the rite.
This concentration of attention does not mean that you lose yourself in your character and forget that the audience is there. On the contrary, the audience is an important part of the play, and the energy they feed back to you further fuels your performance. Acting involves a curious form of split consciousness in which you are not only thinking and reacting as your character would, but are also constantly watching yourself on stage and being aware of the response of the audience, using it to monitor the effectiveness of your performance and modify it if necessary.
Each character, then, is the sum of her actions, and her essence should be gradually revealed during the play. When trying to analyze a character in a play or myth, you should try to discover what she wants most, how strongly she acts in attaining that desire, and how honest and moral she is in pursuing it. You should know how she feels about everything and everybody in the play. You can look for clues in how the author describes the character, what other people in the play say about the character, what the character says about herself, and especially, the character's own actions (Hodge, Play Directing, p. 44). You need to draw on your own feelings and experiences to play a part, but you must try not to make all characters a copy of yourself. Rather, you should strive for a combination of the character's personality and your own.
In creating and revealing a character, you might try using other people you've known or seen as images; often it's very effective to combine traits from several people in one character. It is also useful to imagine your character in different situations which do not occur in the play - what would he order at a restaurant, how would he react to a threat or a seduction, how would he relate to other specific characters? You need to know everything about your character's past, present, and future, whether presented in the action of the play or not.
Another exercise is to use animal imagery to create a character. Observe the real animal, in nature or in the zoo, and then try to mimic its movements and sounds. Eventually you will tone down this realistic imitation and "humanize" the animal qualities into a few physical or vocal traits that give your character the overall quality of the original animal. It is particularly interesting to try this with the various animals associated with different Gods and Goddesses - for example, Odin as a wolf or Freyja as a cat.
If you're not doing a ritual drama or embodying God-forms in your rite, you may feel you don't need to do any characterization. But in almost any ritual, you are not being your normal, everyday self; rather, you take on a ritual persona, allowing yourself to become your best and true self, full of confidence and power. For certain types of ritual, you may even wish to take on a specialized magical persona, embodying certain traits which you wish to emphasize for a particular working (Gundarsson, Kveldulf. Teutonic Magic, pp. 181-82). For either type of persona, the same techniques you use to create a character in a play can help you clarify and strengthen the self you want to be in ritual.
If you want to learn to act, or rather to act better, the easiest way is to take an acting class or two. Most community colleges, universities, and many theatres offer acting classes for beginners or for the general public. I suggest a class rather than school or community theatre productions because, although the latter offer a good way to gain experience once you learn some technique, the directors are often more focused on getting their shows off the ground than on your personal development as an actor. Try more than one class or director, as there are many useful acting techniques and it helps to know a variety of them, each one being useful in different situations.
Above all, stay away from people who seem to be trying to control or manipulate you or play games with your head. Because acting deals with opening yourself up emotionally, actors can be very vulnerable, especially when first learning and experimenting. Although acting can involve exploring different aspects of your personality and using emotional experiences from your past, no one has the right to invade your privacy or use your emotions against you, or to verbally abuse you in an alleged attempt to get you to achieve a certain result. For example, a teacher could justifiably ask you to think of an event in your past that made you sad or angry, but she doesn't have the right to make you tell her what it was. Acting can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy. Look for classes that offer good physical training and acting exercises embodying the basics already discussed - and, above all, classes where the actors emerge feeling happier and more powerful than when they started. You can also explore classes in speech, voice, dancing, or other physical arts.
In addition, there are many exercises you can practice on your own. Many of them may seem like the kind of games you played as a child, and this is true - games of make-believe are the foundations of acting; they don't call them "plays" for nothing. If you can recall the kind of freedom, commitment, imagination, and creativity you used as a child playing, you will have come a long way to becoming a good actor. So here are some suggestions for acting games; you can make up your own when you get the hang of it. Most of these exercises are derived from Stanislavsky's work; more examples can be found in Sonia Moore (The Stanislavski System: The Professional Training of an Actor - digested from the teachings of Konstantin S. Stanislavski).
Explore physical actions. Sit, stand, walk as if a certain situation existed.
Clear off a table in order to make people feel sorry for you.
Clear off a table while surreptitiously searching for a valuable object which might be there.
Sit in order to show off your body to a desired partner.
Sit so as not to attract attention to yourself.
What would I do if I were...?
You are a student; you've awakened after pulling an all-nighter, and can't find the paper you finished before going to bed.
You are Thor, and have awakened to find your Hammer is gone.
You are Sif, and have awakened to find your hair has been cut off.
Let the outer physical circumstances affect your actions:
Pack to go off to a festival.
Pack after spending the day at the beach.
Pack expensive costumes to send back to the rental shop.
Eat a chicken leg as if you were Thor; then as if you were Freyja; then as if you were Loki.
In your mind, imagine going from the store to your home; imagine being at home putting away your groceries; gradually you should move from being the observer to being the "you" doing the actions.
Think of a God or Goddess; try to see what their hall looks like - size, materials, decor, what he or she serves to eat there, what he or she does for fun, who comes to visit, etc.
Imagine you are a character in one of the myths; see yourself going through all the actions of the story in the greatest possible detail.
Concentration and Attention:
Place your attention within a small circle around you, on yourself and immediate objects; then within a medium circle, including several people and groups of furniture or objects; finally within a large circle, encompassing everything within your hearing or field of vision (if your attention wanders, return it to one single object to regain your concentration.
Examine a nearby object carefully; then look away, and tell what you remember.
Listen to the sounds around you, then describe what you heard.
Look at a collection of objects or a landscape for a specified time, then go away and describe them (Note: The last three exercises are variations of "Kim's game", which appears in Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim; many magical systems use similar exercises).
Treat a liquid as if it were clear spring water; salty ice rime; sweet mead; hot tea.
Holding a sword, approach your bitterest foe; your son, to whom you're giving it; a retainer, who is going to swear an oath on it; a vicious wolf.
Say the following lines with a partner:
A: Been here long?
B: Long enough.
A: I was wondering.
A: Are you staying?
B: I don't know.
A: I think you should.
B: I'll think about it.
As you say the lines, imagine yourselves in different situations, which will change the way you say them:
"A" is trying to seduce "B".
"A" is a parent and "B" is a teenager who's come home very late.
"B" is blackmailing "A".
"A" is a teacher and "B" is a problem student.
The same sort of exercises can be done with any non- specific conversation. You can also try saying the lines of a play, saga, or myth as if different situations existed.
Sense and Emotional Memory:
Sense memory is the practice of recreating in your imagination, as fully and accurately as possible, things you have experienced with your senses.
Imagine you are at the beach: see the sun on the water, hear the waves and the gulls, smell the salt air, feel the sun on your back and the sand underneath you.
Emotional memory is based on the peculiar fact that if you use sense memory to relive some highly emotional experience, you will re-experience the emotions you felt then. A very imaginative person can even make himself feel emotions by reliving an imaginary incident he never actually experienced (sound weird? ever cry over a movie or a book? it does work).
Pick an emotional experience from your past (but not one so traumatic and deeply buried that you'll require a therapist to get you through it). Start fairly early in the experience, before the important events take place. Try to visualize all the sights, sounds, smells, etc., as vividly as possible as you proceed through the actions in your mind. By the time you get to the climax, you should be feeling some of the same emotions you felt in the past. If you don't, don't be concerned; just try another incident. Again, the goal here is not to force yourself to deal with forgotten past experiences; it's to find those experiences which you can use to stimulate your emotional responses. Any event that does that, even if it's small and stupid (my personal favourite for grief is the time I broke my very favourite water-gun) is valid. In fact, it's better to use smaller events, because you can control the emotional responses more easily and not get lost in your own angst.
Besides using acting techniques to improve your personal performance of rituals and magic, you can also use drama effectively in group rituals. Ritual drama can greatly enhance seasonal festivals, initiation rites, rites of passage, and other important or festive occasions. It can be used to enliven study group sessions and large festival gatherings. Such dramas can be based on myths, sagas, and folktales; they can be either adaptations or actual exerpts from old texts. You can also create your own dramas, based on seasonal activities or important life-events such as birth, marriage, or death. Many traditional seasonal festivals probably included drama, most notably Easter and Yule. Your dramas can be performed as part of the actual ritual, or afterwards during a sumble or feast.
You can also perform non-ritual drama which is thematically appropriate to a particular event or which represents northern European culture, or just because it's a play you all like. Any drama has a certain ritual quality, and theatre helps lend a festive atmosphere to a gathering. Shakespeare is a good example of secular drama which might enhance a festival.
Whether doing a ritual or a secular drama, you need to do a certain amount of preparation. You should all read through the piece and discuss theme and meaning. The piece should be cast based on the skill of the performers, their appropriateness for their parts, and their reliability (that is, will they learn their lines, show up for rehearsal, etc.). You should not cast a person solely because he is a high-ranking member of your tradition or the gythja's latest lover. It's probably a good idea to have one person act as "director" for any given drama, in order to have some sort of unity and coherent vision, and so that someone can make a decision in case of stalemate. The function of director can be passed around to all interested and capable members of the group, both to allow you to enjoy many different styles and ideas and to keep anyone from getting delusions of grandeur.
Other things to discuss in the beginning are the outer trappings - any type of scenery, costumes, props, music, etc. You need to decide on what kind of look you want, or are capable of producing; decide what things you need; and assign people to procure or make these things well in advance. After the preliminaries are over, you need at least some rehearsal. Many ritualists, and even some actors, feel too much rehearsal will blunt their creative spontaneity, but this is only true if you rehearse by rote rather than by recreating your character's life each time you go onstage. What rehearsal will do is eliminate the "spontaneity" of people wandering aimlessly around, looking at each other in panic because they're hoping that someone remembers what comes next, or dropping character entirely while they look heavenwards hoping to find their next line. Real spontaneity comes from everyone knowing what they're saying and doing so fully that they can be free to really feel and express the emotions and energy that are created by the performance.
Most theatrical productions rehearse at least four weeks, five days a week. You might not be willing to put in that much time to do a small ritual drama, but you should try to have at least a half-dozen or so rehearsals, and at least one "dress rehearsal" where everyone knows all their lines and uses all the costumes and props. This is to prevent you from discovering in performance that you have nowhere to put your sword after you're done with it, or that your lovely cape keeps tripping your leading lady.
Rituals are sensory experiences and can be enhanced with appropriate costumes, decorations, symbolic objects, music and sound effects, smells, and tastes. Colours have traditional or symbolic values in most cultures, and have been shown to alter moods. All the choices you make on externals will have an effect on the overall impact of your ritual. Songs and dances are also effective in appropriate rites. When doing large ritual dramas, it is often beneficial to include the non-active participants as a "crowd of extras". For example, if you were doing the story of the theft of Idun, all the onlookers could become the Gods and Goddesses of Asgard watching Loki fleeing the giant Thjassi and cheering him on. It's even more important to involve the audience in a ritual than in a theatrical performance, since in ritual everyone there is a participant of sorts.
Theatre is a unique and powerful art. The true practice of it sharpens the mind and the will, taps deep emotional resources, and explores the imagination. Theatre incorporates almost all of the other arts. It is unique in that it allows the audience to take part in the creation process. It preserves the playful spirit of childhood. It can make people both think and feel. Because of its power to make people experience other worlds and their own depths, it has been both exalted and forbidden throughout the ages. But no matter how often it has been suppressed, it has survived, because its magic fills a deep need in the human soul.
Barken, Sarah. The Alexander Technique: the Revolutionary Way to Use Your Body for Total Energy (New York: Bantam, 1978). This movement technique, which was all the rage in the 1970s, emphasizes posture, and its goal is moving the body with optimum balance and coordination so that minimum effort is used. This little book is very simple, giving a few very basic movements which one practices until one does them with perfect posture and with perfect ease.
Berry, Cicely. Voice and the Actor, 1st American ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1974). This very basic book on vocal training is a good example of the sorts of things one should be working on to strengthen and train the voice for ritual or theatrical performance. It includes exercises which one can work through on one's own, as well as practice texts and illustrations, and emphasizes freeing the person's natural voice rather than trying to create an artificial "artistic" voice.
Barber, C.L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959). This work explores the origins of theatre in ancient holiday festivals, particularly emphasizing English folk customs and how they were reflected in Shakespeare. It is important to realize how these folk symbols, which are reflections of even older Heathen ones, continued to appear in masque and theatre after the North was christianized, and still remain a part of theatre even today. It's also good to remember that before Cromwell and the Puritans "stuffied" it up, England had a reputation in Europe of being "merrie".
Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1968). This is an example of a basic history of the theatre, such as one might read in a college theatre appreciation course. It shows how theatre and religion have been closely linked since the beginning of human cultural development, and also demonstrates the different styles of theatre that have appeared in various times since then.
Philpotts, Bertha S. The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama (Cambridge: the University Press, 1920). Any true Heathen studying theatre should read one of the few works that directly explores theatre in the culture of the pre-christian Norse, as this one does. Philpotts explores the possible use of the Eddic poems as ritual dramas, and her examples, whether or not historically true, provide good ideas to anyone interested in using drama in Norse rituals.
Shakespeare, William. Read anything by him, because they're very good plays, they're very good poetry, and because they have bits of Heathen folklore running all through them. And don't let any stuffy English classes you may have had put you off; the only trick to Shakespeare is understanding what some of the archaic words mean, and a good footnoted text, like the Penguin collected works, will give you all you need (it's much easier than scholarly German!). And if you're really devoted, pick up a copy of Eric Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy (New York: Dutton, 1969) and be able to understand all of Shakespeare's dirty jokes.
Southern, Richard. The Seven Ages of the Theatre (New York: Hill and Wang, 1963). This is another work on theatre history which traces its connections to ancient rituals and dances. It paints the history of theatre as a series of broad stages of development, each with its own customs and ideals.
Cole, David. The Theatrical Event: A Mythos, a Vocabulary, a Perspective (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1975). This is a really exciting and unique work which explores the true functions of theatre and its kinship to ritual. Cole also draws comparisons between acting and both shamanism and possession behavior.
Hodge, Francis. Play Directing: Analysis, Communication, and Style (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971). Anyone who plans and carries out a ritual is a director, and should probably learn something about what that entails. This work deals first and foremost with how to analyze a dramatic work, but also deals with practical issues like designing scenery, costumes, and special effects. It also has a section on communicating with actors, the benefit of which will be apparent to anyone who has ever tried to work with other people to perform a ritual.
Morris, Eric, Acting from the Ultimate Consciousness: A Dynamic Exploration of the Actor's Inner Resources (New York: Putnam, 1988). This is a sample of one of the more recent texts on acting. Morris' technique is based on Stanislavsky and mixed with psychotherapy, pragmatism, and magic. This particular work emphasizes what consciousness is and how to enhance it, and explores methods of reaching and communicating with the state where all creativity lies, which Morris calls the ultimate unconscious. More basic techniques are explored in Morris' other books, No Acting Please, Being & Doing, and Irreverent Acting.
Shurtleff, Michael: Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part (New York: Bantam, 1980). Although on the surface this is a very practical book geared towards people interested in being professional actors, it also includes many basic acting techniques presented in a particularly clear and no-nonsense manner. It also gives a little taste of what the world of theatre is like.
Stanislavsky, Konstantin (1863-1938). If you dabble in acting at all, you will hear this name mentioned, as he was one of the most influential people in modern acting. Despite the fact that bad actors have misunderstood and misused "the Method", these techniques are usually at the heart of almost every school of acting today. These are just a few books dealing with his philosophies and methods:
Boleslavsky, Richard. Acting, The First Six Lessons (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1949). This work portrays the essence of acting through charming dialogues between a jaded director and an eager young actress.
Moore, Sonia. The Stanislavsky System: the Professional Training of an Actor. Digested from the teachings of Konstantin S. Stanislavsky (New York: Viking Press, 1965). This is a very good capsulization of Stanislavsky's teachings, presented in an organized, easy-to-read fashion. If you haven't heard of any of this stuff before, this is the place to begin.
Stanislavski, Constantin (it's the same guy, they just can't agree how to Anglicize his Russian name), tr. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. An Actor Prepares (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1948). This is Stanislavsky's basic text on acting and the inner training of the imagination, including many exercises and practical suggestions, and written as a delightful story about a group of awkward actors encountering their first real acting class. Two other titles by Stanislavski by the same publisher are: Building a Character, and the last title in the planned trilogy, recreated from his notes by a Mrs. Hapgood, Creating a Role.
Sullivan, Claudia N. The Actor Alone: Exercises for Work in Progress (Jefferson: McFarland, 1993). This book presents exercises for general creative growth, as well as for working on specific roles, and is particularly designed for the actor working alone.