Author:Betsy Polatin

Publisher:North Atlantic Books


While being fitted for my first pair of contact lenses, I was informed that the fitter was going to teach me how to blink. At the time, I was struggling with the legal distinction between holding and obiter dictum, and I had sort of assumed that blinking was in my educational past, freeing me up for later challenges.

Those being introduced to the Alexander Technique, as gloriously amplified in Betsy Polatin’s The Actor’s Secret, might have a similar feeling when told that there is a learnable art to standing, sitting, and breathing.

The Actor’s Secret, which is extremely useful to normal humans as well as actors and which is, upon publication, no longer a secret, skillfully blends three disciplines in laying out a path to enhanced wellbeing and professional efficacy: the Alexander Technique, the focus of which, simplistically stated, is body alignment, Breathing Coordination, and Somatic Experiencing, which involves working through traumatic experiences to restore and enhance physical and mental health.

Although it is a gross oversimplification that does no justice to the clear and meticulous explanations of the super-qualified and experienced author, the aspects of the book which are of value to all, is the emphasis on space versus compression in managing the human body and spirit. A parallel to freedom versus restraint comes to mind. The importance of this distinction is, of course, well known to sufferers of spinal ailments. Polatin expands the concept to all parts of the body from tongue, to neck, to shoulders, to lungs, and to the lower extremities and joints.

Bits and pieces of this approach may be familiar to singing students, who are instructed to breathe from the diaphragm, and to ballet students who are told that the carriage of the head is key to turns because it is the densest part of the body and who frequently have their teachers flick their shoulder blades to maximize the space between them. The Actor’s Secret significantly expands and integrates these stray instructions.

Similarly, with the art of acting, Polatin delves deeply beyond the familiar jargon of “vulnerability” and “being in the moment” with elaborate explanations of and methods of achieving these essential states. Playwrights will be pleased to read, “It is important [for actors] to keep the whole life of the play in mind…”

In the course of my career as a playwright, often the nemesis of actors just starting out, I have been exposed to several acting techniques, the Stanislavsky-flavored ‘Method,” the methodology of Michael Chekhov, the valuable insights of Simon Callow, and on and on. The approach set forth in The Actor’s Secret is in my opinion the most comprehensive, straight forward, non-mystical, and, therefore, most likely to produce good results.

Because the author is so thoroughly steeped in the craft of acting, it would be fascinating to hear her views on the differences between English and American acting “styles,” National Theatre v. Actors Studio, on how some actors become supremely successful without impressive natural vocal equipment, e.g., Geraldine Page and Sandy Dennis (about whom one critic said had turned post-nasal drip into an acting technique), and the value of the favorite exercise of actors who find line memorization beneath them—the improvisation. It would also be interesting to hear how the author explains how two actors, with equal devotion and attention to her book’s injunctions, can produce disparate results. I don’t believe the word “talent” appears anywhere in the book, undoubtedly a good and encouraging thing.

Perhaps the greatest value of the book, among many, is demonstrating that acting is tough work, significantly more complex and demanding than just making believe. Hopefully, the book will winnow out from the profession those who want to be actors as opposed to those who want to act, and to the best of their abilities.

The book is extremely well presented. In addition to immaculate editing, color photos, and impressive paper stock, it comes with a useful glossary, bibliography, index, and footnotes. Praise to North Atlantic Books, which, curiously, hails from Southern California.

I hope that in spite of its curious title, the book will achieve the wide audience it deserves, especially now that the secret is out.

Follow Here To Purchase The Actor's Secret: Techniques for Transforming Habitual Patterns and Improving Performance