Anatomy Reviewed in Theatre Bay Area

Theatre Bay Area, Northern California’s leading theatre journal, reviewed The Anatomy of a Choice: An Actor’s Guide to Text Analysis in its December, 2010 edition:

shapeimage_1 (7)While Anatomy of a Choice was initially written with young actors in mind, it is by no means exclusively for teens. The writing is crisp and clear enough that pretty much anybody can grasp it, yet rarely seems remedial…. As it breaks down, step by step, what to look for reading though a play for the first time-and the second, and the third-it’s easy to see the book being used as a checklist for professional or semiprofessional actors looking for help, adrift inside a difficult text.

Read the entire review

Maura Vaughn Presenting AT CAIS

At the upcoming meeting of the California Association for Independent Schools, Maura Vaughn will be presenting “Anatomy of a Choice: a Theatre Arts Curriculum.” She will discuss her four-year acting curriculum, and how she introduces the concepts of text analysis to her students.

The CAIS meeting will take place at Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA on March 7, 2011.

For more information or to register, visit the CAIS Event Page.

Why The Anatomy of a Choice? Acting Process vs. Lost Lunches

shapeimage_1 (21)I’ve been asked a number of times how I came to choose the title for my guide to script analysis, The Anatomy of a Choice. Of course, if you’ve read the book, the answer is self-evident, but the story of how the title came to be says a lot, I think, about the work itself, and about how I came to write it.

When I began teaching acting at Branson, the students were used to focusing almost entirely on performance rather than process—that is, they were used to making decisions about their characters based on the adrenaline-fueled demands of the show rather than any kind of organic exploration. That didn’t sit well with me. There’s a reason, after all, that Constantin Stanislavski called his first and most important book An Actor Prepares! So I set out to shift the emphasis of the program and to explore with the students the most essential skills that go into creating a role and preparing for a performance: the basic principals of an actor’s craft.

Early on, we spent a great deal of time discussing just how an actor goes about making specific choices—those indivisible elements that, strung together, make up a particular performer’s approach to a role.

One day, I pulled out a huge piece of paper and asked the students to throw out their ideas about what went into making any single choice.

“What’s just happened,” said one student, and I wrote that down.

“What I want to happen,” said another. I wrote that down too.

The answers began to tumble out:

“What happens at the end of the scene.”

“The way I go about solving problems.”

“What I had for lunch.”

And so it went. After a bit more than half of the class time, we had filled the paper with the things that they felt were the most important to help them define a choice.

Then I said, “These are great—what you had for lunch maybe a little less than some of the others, but still, this is a good starting point. The next question is, in what order do you need to explore these? Do some of these factors depend on others? Is the order the same for every character? For every show?”

We spent the rest of the time drawing arrows from one element to another, creating a kind of flow chart for making acting choices. As the class ended, I wrote across the top of the paper THE ANATOMY OF A CHOICE. And we spent the rest of that year—and a number of subsequent years—refining that chart.

After some time, I realized that the students were still relying too much on me to define the process for them. Now, I love my students, and I love talking to them about the art and craft of acting, but I also like to be able to eat lunch, and when I realized that I was spending every free moment helping young actors break down scenes, I realized that I needed to find a better approach. I began to look for a text that they could use as a guide to breaking down a script and making all of those choices that each play—each scene—required them to make.

As I searched, I realized that most acting books either were written with experienced actors in mind and discussed the process of breaking down a script abstractly or in passing, or were everything-but-the-kitchen-sink textbooks that touched on everything from theater history to instructions on how to apply stage makeup or how to use different colored gels on the lights to create a more dramatic stage picture. All wonderful—but I wouldn’t have found any of them helpful when I was a young actor in learning how to break down a script, to prepare for rehearsal or class, and to begin to create my own approach to a character.

When I tried to get my students to use some of my favorite acting books—by masters such as Stanislavski, Hagen, Adler or Meisner—they ended up having even more questions than they’d started with, and my lunchtimes kept getting harder and harder to protect.

Sure that someone must have written the guide that I was looking for, I asked all of my friends and colleagues in both academic and professional theatre whether they knew of such a book; the silence I received in response was positively Pinteresque.

Finally, desperate, I turned to a friend who, in addition to being a professional director, taught acting to college students, and asked if he knew of any clear, practical guides to help actors analyze a script. He answered, “No. But wow, that would be useful!” When I suggested—very reasonably, I thought—that he write the book, he laughed and said, “No! You’re the one who’s been doing the research. You write it!”

And so I did.

With the help of a grant from the Wood Family Foundation, I set out to take the process for breaking down a script that my students and I had developed and to create a guide that any actor could use to find his or her way to making a string of the strongest, most organic choices possible on the way to creating a unique, vibrant performance.

There you have it: The Anatomy of a Choice.

Anatomy of a Choice Bookstore Now Open!

Visitors to will now be able to peruse the website’s theater arts bookstore. Powered by, the store offers up not only all Anatomy of a Choice itself, but also all of the classic titles quoted in the book, but also classic acting texts in techniques ranging from voice and speech to character movement, books and videos sure to provide creative inspiration, and lists of the most top-selling titles in several theater-related disciplines. Go to the order page and click on the bookstore link!

We are also considering becoming an affiliate as well, which would allow you to order Anatomy of a Choice and other books from your local independent bookstore. If you think this is a good idea, feel free to post on the forums or to send us an email at!

Got Feedback? Lots of ways to share it!   

Do you have thoughts, opinions or questions about The Anatomy of a Choice? There are many ways to share them!

  1. Bullet Post on the forums. Go to our forums, register (it only takes a minute), and post your feedback, queries or news.

  2. Bullet Post on the Anatomy of a Choice Facebook page. If you’ve “liked” the page, you can share your thoughts and observations there, post links to other pages, or ask questions of other actors and teachers. Just enter your thoughts in the “What’s on your mind” box at the top of the page, or start a conversation on the discussion page.

  3. Bullet Post a review on, on, on or on

  4. Bullet Post a review on your online book-club such as or

  5. Bullet Email author Maura Vaughn and let her know what you’re thinking.

Haven’t read it yet? What are you waiting for?

Howard Rheingold (Stanford)

Maura Vaughn was the single most influential teacher in my daughter’s high school career and I had the great privilege of watching her teach on several occasions. Maura teaches more than the mechanics of acting  — she gets to the heart and soul of theater.

Howard Rheingold

Stanford University

Author of Smart Mobs and The Virtual Community

Ted Walch (Harvard-Westlake)

There are many approaches to the study of acting.  Vaughn’s approach strikes me as incisive, thorough, thoughtful and eminently useful—especially for the younger actor.  Vaughn puts to rest the notion that all the beginning student needs is desire and a bit of talent.  Her anatomical chart is full of detail.

Ted Walch,

Director of Theater, Harvard-Westlake School

Ken Sonkin (USF)

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Maura as an actor, teacher and director and suffice it to say, she is a consummate theater artist. Her new book is an excellent guide to acting for all levels that offers a comprehensive vocabulary along with the necessary tools in order to mine the most out of one’s craft. In it, she offers an organic approach to acting that is thorough, humble, and most of all, accessible. She inspires, elates, and educates, all from her first hand professional experience both as an actor and a dedicated theater educator.

Ken Sonkin,

Adjunct Professor, University of San Francisco