Break A Leg

“We must overcome the notion that we must be regular… it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.”- Uta Hagen.



Even if you have never heard of Uta Hagen, you have no doubt been influenced by her life. For decades, Uta Hagen taught acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio in Greenwich Village and many consider her America’s most influential acting teacher. Her students included Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Lily Tomlin, Matthew Broderick, Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, and many others. Born in Germany in 1919, she moved with her family to the U.S. at age seven. Uta was the two-time winner of the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, and was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981. Although she made a few appearances in film later in life, she dedicated herself to the stage and the classroom. Her first book, Respect for Acting, is still one of the most commonly used “textbooks” for acting.


In my teenage years, I was lucky enough to be paid to act in a mostly improvisational teenage theatrical group called Looking In. My acting teacher, Jonathan Gilman, recommended Respect for Acting, which I found at the Hartford Public Library. Because of the wonderful reciprocal library system that we are fortunate to have here in Connecticut, I asked my father (a voracious reader who worked in Hartford at the time) to borrow it on his library card even though we lived many towns away. I became attached to the book and kept asking my dad to renew it. Finally, he decided I had enough renewals and so he found a copy of my very own. It still sits on my shelf with his inscription, “Love, Dad”, inside. That made this great book all the more special.

If you are interested in acting, or know someone who is, I recommend that they first enter Uta Hagen’s “classroom” through Respect for Acting. A great second, essential book for the aspiring actor is The Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski.

A few other recommendations for the actor or those interested in the acting craft:

The Art of the One-Act edited by Arnold Johnston and Deborah Ann Percy. 812.04 ART. This book includes 10-minute and “longer” one act plays as well as some tips on playwriting.

Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide by Joanna Merlin. Merlin gives you the whole scoop on the auditioning experience and how to best prepare for it.

Laugh Lines: Short Comic Plays edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold. 812.052 LAU. Who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh?

One-Act Plays for Acting Students edited by Norman Bert. 812.04. This book includes monologues, two-actor and three-actor plays, tips on rehearsals, and information on how to secure the rights to perform a play.

Play the Scene: The Ultimate Collection of Contemporary and Classic Scenes and Monologues compiled by Michael Schulman and Eva Mekler. 812.508 PLA.

Or, you can browse our full play selection by taking a stroll through the 812s in the stacks.

~Ann Marie

Ann Marie is the Library Director at the Oliver Wolcott Library

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