For no particular reason, I glanced tonight at the dimly lit bottom shelf next to my right foot and I spotted it, sandwiched between A Short History of Chicago and Baseball’s Greatest Quotes (so help me, that’s where it was). It was a book I hadn’t perused in a few years, a special book, one of my all-time favorites. It’s called The Art of Coarse Acting and every actor should read it. Period.
Let me tell you a little about the fellow who wrote it. He’s a Brit by the name of Michael Green. So far as I know, Mr. Green made his living primarily as a journalist, but all the while he was also an actor, mostly in amateur productions in England. The book was first published in 1964, so if the author is still around, he would presumably be getting up there in years.
The book includes many an anecdote about actors Mr. Green has worked with. Some of these tales may be apocryphal, but that’s really beside the point. The premise of the book is that it offers helpful hints on how to be a Coarse Actor. There are suggestions on how to steal a scene, even though one is a mere extra. How to conceal your lines on cue cards so as to spare yourself the trouble of memorizing them (and stories of such plans gone horribly awry). How to die onstage so as to maximize your comfort (for this, there is a helpful photograph showing that the decedent has fallen behind a sofa leaving only his feet showing, so there is no difficult pose or contortion to maintain).
One of my favorite parts of the book consists of Mr. Green’s commentary on the pitfalls of forgetting one’s lines. I will quote from the book:
An old pro I knew used to have a stock speech ready for this emergency. If it was a Shakespeare play, he would stare the offender in the eye and say firmly:
‘Thou weariest me.
Unto my chamber shall I now retire
And rest me on my couch a little hour.
Farewell, until we meet again, farewell.’
He would then exit, light a cigarette in the wings, and watch his victim trying to get out of that one.
I’ve done a little poking around on the Internet and the book appears to be very much still in print after all these years. In fact, it is now required reading in some college theater curricula! If you’ve ever trod the boards, I can promise you a wonderfully entertaining read. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. And though Mr. Green probably didn’t mean to write a book filled with good pointers for serious actors, he’s written that as well.