Mastering Shakespeare

by Scott Kaiser

What is it that British actors have over American actors that aides in performing Shakespeare? Scott Kaiser raises this question in the introduction. Many American student actors ask themselves this question all the time in training and afterwards. No wonder that the topic comes up, most of the great Shakespearean performances in movies are by Brtis, while the Americans are generally there to sell tickets.

The answer? It’s not that Americans lack anything, but that the modern acting tradition is strongly based in a seemingly not-classic-friendly style: Lee Strasberg and his teachings of the Stanislavsky System, which only included the methods described in one of Stanislavsky’s book and excluded all information about voice, diction, rhythm, verse speaking, punctuation, body, etc. All the stuff important to acting Shakespeare.

Scott Kaiser endeavors to bridge the gap with his book, by explaining “how to apply a Stanislavsky-based approach to the challenges of acting Shakespeare.”

In the introduction Mr. Kaiser acknowledges that it’s impossible to really learn acting from a book. Instead, he turns it into a play. Based on the form employed by Richard Boleslavsky and his book, Acting: The First Six Lessons, Kaiser writes dialogue between a master teacher and his sixteen students. Actors are, after all, used to reading scripts and translating it into personal experience.

In that regard, the book is very effective. Reading along with the students process with the master teacher, Mr K., is a very nice change from other acting books that have a technical manual kind of approach. This book is much more practical. The questions the students have might just be what any other student would ask. Years of teaching experience has obviously culminated in this book.

Mastering Shakespeare doesn’t spend much time talking about meter, scansion, or verse vs. prose, there is an assumption that the student knows about this already. What the book really concentrates on is what inspires the text. “Why am I saying these words right now?” Reading the book offers many different tools to answer that question.

The only thing this book lacks is more introductory information on acting Shakespeare: Scansion, rhetoric, verse speaking, etc. This book assumes that a student has a fairly solid foundation in acting and acting Shakespeare. That being said, it probably shouldn’t be the first thing you read if you’re a beginning student. It is one of many books that should be a part of the actor’s arsenal. Directors and teachers should pick up a copy for insight in helping an actor create specific choices and a believable/sustainable performance.

Mastering Shakespeare is available for $19.95 on