ACTING THROUGH SONG: Paul Harvard
NHB (Nick Hern Books)
ISBN: 978 1 84842 229 2
Review: Alexander Ray Edser
A significant book for performing in music-theatre.
There can be little doubt about the popularity of musicals; and, connected with this, the popularity for actors in performing in them. Paul Harvard’s book, then, looking specifically at the skills and knowledge required to act in musicals – most specifically about acting through the sung elements – is both welcome and an important addition to the actors’ library. This goes as much for the working actor as for the actor in training – and there is many a director who will benefit from it too.
Much of the first part of the book deals with the basic skills of acting and how to develop them. Harvard deals clearly with issues that will concern or confuse actors in training. His discussion on what an actor/character feels is most welcome; as Harvard describes it, the actor creates the performance through a series of actions . . . it’s the audience that is ‘moved’ or who feels emotions. As he points out Mamet is credited as having said: ‘There’s no such thing as character’; Harvard argues that the actor gives an illusion of the character.
Harvard explores the tensions between treating lyrics as dialogue, while encouraging the actor to acknowledge there may be technical requirements to do with verse in the lyrics. His practical experience is evident as he echorts actors to explore the text in all ways possible – a need all the more important as the nuances often shown is a ‘straight’ text may not be evident in lyrics.
Harvard states; ‘I love rehearsals’. His detailed section on rehearsal processes is evidence of this and often revelatory. This is so in his outline of applying Laban action techniques to a song, or how to rehearse a duet – through improvisation and then as spoken dialogue first. He sets out a clearly defined set of processes for learning and then moving a song; he also admits this is a utopian ideal rarely achieved in commercial theatre. (Mores the pity, I’d agree.)
His audition section is full of good, practical advice; and sets out a challenging portfolio audition framework.
Time and time again, Havard comes back to the instruction for the actor to pay unlimited attention to their partner – excellent advice; that he acknowledges the performer may also have to be thinking ‘I must watch the conductor now’, or ‘I must move down into the spot’ is an unresolved tension. Which is, at the end of the day, part of the excitement of being an actor.