Book Review: BREAKING DOWN YOUR SCRIPT by Laura Wayth

A small but mighty guidebook for actors

By: Sep. 14, 2023
Book Review: BREAKING DOWN YOUR SCRIPT by Laura Wayth
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Book Review: BREAKING DOWN YOUR SCRIPT by Laura Wayth The moment when you're presented with a whole new script can feel a little overwhelming for an actor, but Breaking Down Your Script: A Step-by-Step Guide for the Actor is here to help. It's written by Laura Wayth, who has worked as an acting teacher in Italy, Morocco, China and the UK, and is currently Professor of Acting and Coordinator of the Actor Training Program at San Francisco State University. Her years of coaching acting students have led her to develop a universal technique for approaching scripts, which she lays out in this easy-to-follow guide.

Part of Nick Hern Books' Compact Guides range of 'pocket-sized' (or, more realistically, bag-sized) books for actors and theatremakers, Breaking Down Your Script is only 161 pages long but it manages to impart a lot of wisdom in that small space. It's split into three main sections which guide you through the 'Global Read Approach', the 'Scene-by-Scene Approach' and the 'Line-by-Line Approach'. Ideally you'll follow them in order if you're tackling a whole play, as the first section deals with big picture issues to reflect on during your first couple of read-throughs, and the subsequent sections help you to break the script down piece by piece to gain a greater understanding.

In each section, Wayth suggests ways to read and study the script, and talks about the questions actors should be considering, as well as the reasons why those questions are important. Her focus is not only on developing an actor's individual character and engaging with their arc, but also on understanding the overall aims of the play and how the actor's own role can support that. At the end of each section, there's a neat list of all the questions raised in the chapter, which readers can return to and use as a worksheet each time they encounter a new script. There's also a character worksheet included.

Throughout the book, Wayth uses excerpts from scripts, showing how her methods can be used to tackle anything from Chekhov to Shakespeare, to more modern plays like Lynn Nottage's Ruined and Alexandra Wood's Unbroken. She also shows actors how to annotate their script with their tactics, motivations and subtext.

This concise guide is easy to read, and to dip in and out of depending on whether you're grappling with a two-act play or simply a monologue. Wayth's style is clear, engaging and personable, and her questions are thought-provoking and make it easy for actors to develop playable objectives for individual scenes or even individual lines.

Though it's aimed specifically at actors, the book would also be a useful read for directors and playwrights. It's not limited to the theatre, either - the same techniques would work for film or television scripts. While those who've attended drama school may have covered similar - or different - methods of approaching a script, having a step-by-step process laid out as succintly as in this guide is invaluable. It'll be of great use, whether you're preparing for an audition or setting out on a new production.

Breaking Down Your Script is published by Nick Hern Books

Image Credit: Nick Hern Books


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