Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Michael Shurtleff died at age 86

I am saddened to read in the New York Times that Michael Shurtleff died January 28th at his home in Los Angeles.

Shurtleff had been the casting director for such Broadway shows as Chicago, Pippin, Becket, Gypsy, The Odd Couple, Jesus Christ Superstar and for the movies The Sound of Music, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Graduate.

His eye for talent led to casting Barbara Streisand at age eighteen in her first Broadway musical.

He also wrote one of my favorite books of all time is Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part. It has been instrumental in my writing over the years as I look at his wisdom to remind me what I as a writer need to put into my story.

His 12 guideposts show a richness, complexity and variety of human emotion that should be a part of every character and every scene.

There are so many pearls of wisdom in his book including the reason why alcohol is used in plays (or novels or movies). Here are two snippets from his book:

"There is only one reason why anyone drinks in a play: to release inhibitions, to be able to say and do things he was normally afraid to do, too repressed to do, too considerate or cowardly to say, too polite or fearful to risk. Have a few drinks and all this can come pouring out, once the blocks are down and the dam has broken.

Actors tend to use drinking negatively. It’s important to find the positive: allow drinking to heighten the emotional needs, to free you to express deeply-buried feelings. Not to escape from relationship, but to pursue it. Not to become vague and fuzzy about the world and whoever is in it with you, but to seek confrontation, to fight for what you want in ways normally denied you. Not to withdraw from your scene partner, but to seek in a richer, more needful way, warmth, camaraderie, love."

Ahh, that's why I love his book and I turn to it as my reference book of choice. I wrote my second post on this blog about my veneration of Shurtleff. If anyone hasn't read it and is interested in reading more, you can check it out here.

If you haven't read his book, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Buy it from a store or check it out from your library.

I am sorry that Michael Shurtleff died, but I am happy that he lived because the world benefited from his talent.

Thank you for everything Michael. You will be missed.

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