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Acting: The First Six Lessons

The Way of the Lancer brought immediate literary acclaim to Richard Boleslavski, spelled with an “i” after the manner of his Polish ancestors. The book was variously called a work of genius, the best human document of the events preceding the Russian Revolution, a masterly narrative biography, a new writing of history. But no matter what else critics said of it, they almost invariably added that it was intensely dramatic, obviously the work of a mind trained in the theatre. As rightly they might say, for the uniform of an officer of the Polish Lancers and the change from “y” to “i” was no disguise for Richard Boleslavsky, an actor of the Moscow Art Theatre, Director of the Moscow Art Theatre Studio and, in America, Director of the Laboratory Theatre, of many successful plays on Broadway, of films in Hollywood. What many of the critics seemed to miss, however, in this splendid

book and its sequel, Lances Down, was the fact that Boleslavsky’s style and point of view, dramatic as it undoubtedly was, had little to do with the art of the writer of plays. Way of the Lancer was not the product of a dramatist’s mind, turned narrator, but of an actor’s mind. One is almost the converse of the other. The actor is usually word-shy and inarticulate. Often he does not know what it is he does or how he does it, that makes him an actor. Even when he knows, it is difficult for him to say it or write it. He can only express it in action. His language is a language of movement, of gesture, of voice, of the creation and projection of character by things done or left undone. The dramatist, on the other hand, works easily with words, writes fluently, interprets character, situation, and events, manner and method in his own terms. So far as the art and the craft of acting have been written of at all, it is usually the dramatist or the critic who has written of them. That is why there is so little in print really to explain the actor to himself and to his fellows.