Recently, in class, an actor asked me about how I was able to ferret out a particular point in the text that was of crucial importance for understanding what was going down in a particular scene. She said she had read the play carefully several times and not understood this point. I had to reply that it just takes practice to learn to read for the hot, critical, lifemaking details and features of a script. We work on that skill in the class all the time. However, a little more than that needs to be said. As much as I feel that there are particular ways in which an actor needs to learn to approach a script, it is also true that an actor needs to be a sensitive reader and a nuanced observer of life’s rich pageant in general. And this means a degree of introversion. Rilke enjoined his young poet to “find his solitude.” The same could be said for actors. Often, we tend to associate a kind of extroversion with actors: actors are gregarious people who like to be in the spotlight, to receive attention. There is nothing wrong with these qualities. An actor does need a desire to be seen, to share himself or herself and his or her experience. However, I think what is often forgotten is that an actor needs an introverted side as well: he or she needs to have a keen sense of the landscape of his or her own thoughts and feelings, in order to have something truly rich to share with an audience. In my experience, one of the best ways to develop this is through reading. Reading is usually a solitary activity, and reading fiction or plays involves entering another world, and coming to terms with the complicated realms of life depicted therein. If one reads reasonably good literature, there is usually richness and complexity aplenty. It is through this activity that one can develop one’s eagle-eye for the critical factors in texts. One learns about the world, and one also becomes more intimately acquainted with how texts work: what are the points they hinge on, what are their centers of gravity. So the bottom line is: I advise actors to read. Read stuff you enjoy, but also stuff that challenges you (in other words: read some good literature). The benefits will be large if you can cultivate reading as a habitual way of meditating on yourself and the world and spending time with yourself, getting to know your own soul.
That acting has both an introverted and an extroverted dimension is one othe things that makes it distinctive as an art, and also one of the things that makes it so fascinating