"You Can Act!" is a practical guide to understanding and developing the art of acting. Author, D.W. Brown, seeks to share his understanding of what it takes to be a serious actor. (Not "serious" as in dramatic vs. comedic, but, rather, to seriously pursue the craft of acting.)
A desire to instruct and help up and coming actors comes through strongly in this book as Brown shares his experiences and gives the reader insights into an industry that most have to learn the hard way.
Brown does a very good job of taking what could, potentially, be the equivalent of acting psycho-babble (to those that have never studied acting before, anyway) and put it on a level that doesn't dumb it down, but makes it accessible to the novice. That said, it is written on an adult level and would not be the kind of book that I would hand to my nine year old budding actor and say, "read this if you want to learn more about acting." It is certainly above that level and is intentionally meant to be. With that said, move a couple years in the age grouping, say to high school, and I think that from there and up (depending on the maturity level of the person) the book will be a useful and easy to understand tool.
Depth of Information
At 365 pages in length, D. W. Brown has made no attempt to skimp or cheat you out of valuable information. In fact, I don't think he missed anything. From an actor's first read of the script to the performance and everything in between, Brown brings the actor full circle in the process.
When reading an instructional book of this length it is sometimes difficult, for me in particular, to maintain full interest for a long stretch of time. Breaking it up in pieces seemed to be the best thing to do for me. It's not like reading that best seller that you start reading and can't put down and, before you know it, you're late for work. (Of course, I honestly can't think of any instructional type book that grips your imagination like a work of fiction, anyway.) Be that as it may...one thing that Brown does well with his book is to pepper it with personal stories that offer insight into the material he is discussing. This keeps things from becoming monotonous and, even if you can't read it in a couple longer sittings, keeps you looking forward to your next quick jaunt with the book.
"You Can Act!" is certainly a book that will stay on my shelf as a point of reference. Will I ever read it through from cover to cover again? Probably not. However, I can see myself, as an actor, struggling with some part of the fun, but grueling acting process of getting ready for a role and pulling Brown's book off the shelf for a little insight into the part of the process that I'm stuck with. I think the reusability of this book as a future reference is great.
Are you serious about acting? Are you willing to do what it takes to not only be a good actor, but to be great? If so, can you put an price on honing your craft? Could I possible put more questions into this section?
I know to most of us, especially in the current economic situation, that $25 can often seem like a decent chunk of money to throw down on a book. Fair enough. I know for a fact that I have paid considerably more for college textbooks that didn't offer near the amount of information and insight that Brown offers in his book.
Bottom line: $25? Heck, yeah! If you're really serious I believe that you'll find this book to be a useful tool. (And, if you decide to pick it up at someplace like Amazon.com, it comes in below $20, which is an even better deal.)
Here's the part where I get to throw in a bit more of my opinion on the subject at hand: acting. While this book has a tremendous wealth of practical information and is, no doubt, a wonderful resource, I think that acting instruction (books or classes) are like golf lessons.
What in the world do I mean? Let me see if I can put this into words...eh hem...acting, like golf, takes at least a modicum of natural talent. Acting, like golf, has a proven technique that needs to be developed and adapted to suit your own personality and style. Acting, like golf, takes work to become better at it. So far so good. Here's the caveat to all this instruction: Just as a golf swing needs to feel natural and smooth to be effective, your acting needs to also feel natural and smooth. That's where the training and practicing come in...the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes. However, the tendency is to go from your golf lesson to the tee box with your wellspring of technique. You step up to the ball and everything you've read about the game, everything your instructor has pounded into your head, begins to spin around in your mind. Are my feet spread apart enough? Are my elbows in the right place? Okay, nice easy back swing....don't kill it, don't kill it! Nice and easy...oh crap! A bad hit. What about all that information that you are armed with? All that good and useful information took you out of the game when the chips were down. It wasn't just you and the ball, living in that moment, taking it all in. I think acting can be that way too. The instruction is a very good thing, but when it's time to "act" ( I think you should just "be" and not "act," but that's another article) you must clear your mind of everything except what is right there in front of you: your surroundings, the other actors that you are engaged with, etc. Anything that takes you out of the moment is a hindrance.
So realize that a book such as D.W. Brown's "You Can Act!" is a great tool you can make use of and apply the lessons taught therein. But, when it comes down to the "doing," don't let it mess with your head, trust the preparation that you've put into your role, and let your performance be marked by total focus and abandonment to the role you are playing.