acting


acting
/ak"ting/, adj.
1. serving temporarily, esp. as a substitute during another's absence; not permanent; temporary: the acting mayor.
2. designed, adapted, or suitable for stage performance.
3. provided with detailed stage directions for the performer: an acting version of a play.
n.
4. the art, profession, or activity of those who perform in stage plays, motion pictures, etc.
[1595-1605; ACT + -ING2, -ING1]
Syn. 1. provisional, interim.

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Art of representing a character on a stage or before a camera by means of movement, gesture, and intonation.

Acting in the Western tradition originated in Greece in the 6th century BC; the tragedian Thespis is traditionally regarded as founder of the profession. Aristotle defined acting as "the right management of the voice to express various emotions" and declared it a natural gift that he doubted could be taught. Acting declined as an art in the Middle Ages, when Christian liturgical drama was performed by craft guilds and amateurs. Modern professional acting emerged in the 16th century with Italy's commedia dell'arte troupes. It flourished during the era of William Shakespeare. Not until the 18th century, however, was acting considered a profession to be taken seriously, through the efforts in England of the actor-manager David Garrick and the talents of actors such as Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, and Henry Irving. Modern acting styles have been influenced by Konstantin Stanislavsky's emphasis on the actor's identification with his role and by Bertolt Brecht's insistence on the objectivity and discipline of the actor. The Stanislavsky method was adopted in the U.S. by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler (1901–92) and is the basis of most contemporary training, which features the cultivation of emotional and sense memory, physical and vocal training, and improvisation.

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▪ theatrical arts
Introduction

      the performing art (arts, the) in which movement, gesture, and intonation are used to realize a fictional character for the stage, for motion pictures, or for television.

      Acting is generally agreed to be a matter less of mimicry, exhibitionism, or imitation than of the ability to react to imaginary stimuli. Its essential elements remain the twin requisites enunciated by the French actor François-Joseph Talma (Talma, François-Joseph) in his tribute to the actor Lekain (1825): “an extreme sensibility and a profound intelligence.” For Talma it is sensibility that allows an actor to mark his face with the emotions of the character he is playing and to convey the intentions of the playwright, the implications of the text, and the movements of the “soul” of the character. Intelligence—the understanding of the workings of the human personality—is the faculty that orders these impressions for an audience.

      The essential problems in acting—those of whether the actor actually “feels” or merely imitates, of whether he should speak naturally or rhetorically, and of what actually constitutes being natural—are as old as theatre itself. They are concerned not merely with “realistic” acting, which arose in the theatre of the 19th century, but with the nature of the acting process itself.

      The ephemeral nature of acting has left it without many practical foundations and only a few theoretical traditions. In the middle of the 18th century the German critic and dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim) drew attention to this difficulty: “We have actors but no art of acting.” In an artistic field where the measures of greatness are traditionally the subjective reports of witnesses or critics, the understanding of the art has naturally remained in dispute. It remains as true today as when stated by George Henry Lewes (Lewes, George Henry) in his On Actors and the Art of Acting (1875):

I have heard those for whose opinions in other directions my respect is great, utter judgments on this subject which proved that they had not even a suspicion of what the art of acting really is.

      Efforts to define the nature of an art or craft usually are based upon the masterpieces of that field. Without that necessary reference point, vague speculations and generalizations—without proof of validity—are likely. In the visual, musical, and literary arts, this foundation exists; the work of the great masters of the past and the present serves not only to elucidate the art but also to create standards to emulate. It is difficult to imagine what the present state of comprehension of music would be if only the music of today were available, and the achievements of Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart had to be known only by hearsay. Yet, this is precisely the situation that exists in acting. The actor, in the words of the 19th-century American actor Lawrence Barrett, “is forever carving a statue of snow.” That is why the understanding of acting has not equaled the appreciation of it and why the actor's creative process has defied comprehension.

Theories of traditions
      Throughout the history of theatre, debate has continued over the question of whether the actor is a creative (creativity) artist or simply an interpreter. Since the actor's performance is usually based on the play, and the dramatist is conceded to be a creative artist, it is sometimes concluded that the actor must be only an interpretive artist. Some modern exponents of the actor's creativity have indirectly accepted this view and have turned, therefore, to nonverbal theatre. But others deny that this recourse to primitivism is necessary in order to make acting a creative art. When composers like Schubert or Schumann created musical settings for the poems of Heine or Goethe, their music did not lose its essentially creative nature. Verdi used Shakespeare's Othello and Falstaff for his great operas, but his music is no less creative for that. When an artist merely imitates the work of another artist in the same medium, that may properly be called noncreative; the original artist has already solved the basic problems of execution, and his pattern is simply followed by the imitator. Such a work can be considered merely an exercise in skill (or in execution). An artist in one medium who uses an art work of another medium as subject matter, however, must solve the problems posed by his own medium—a creative achievement. It is therefore quite proper to speak of a character as if he were the actor's creation—of John Gielgud's “Hamlet,” for example, or John Barrymore's or Jonathan Pryce's. Because a medium offers the potential for creativity, of course, it does not follow that all its practitioners are necessarily creative: there are imitative artists in every medium. But acting can only be understood after it is first recognized as a creative medium demanding a creative act. In “The Art of Acting” the American drama teacher Brander Matthews (Matthews, Brander) remarked,

The actor needs to have under control not only his gestures and his tones, but all other means of stimulating sensibility and these should be ready for use at all times, wholly independent of the words of the text.

      In the same work he quoted with approval the words of the great 19th-century Italian tragedian Ernesto Rossi that a “great actor is independent of the poet, because the supreme essence of feeling does not reside in prose or in verse, but in the accent with which it is delivered.” And even Denis Diderot (Diderot, Denis), the French philosopher of the 18th century whose famous Paradox of Acting (written 1773–78; published 1830) is dealt with below and who was himself a dramatist, stated:

even with the clearest, the most precise, the most forceful of writers, words are no more, and never can be more, than symbols, indicating a thought, a feeling or an idea; symbols which need action, gesture, intonation, and a whole context of circumstances, to give them full significance.

      If the art of acting is regarded as merely interpretive, the external elements of the actor's skill tend to be emphasized, but, when acting is recognized as a creative art, it leads inevitably to a search for the deeper resources that stimulate the actor's imagination and sensitivity. This search presents difficult problems. The actor must learn to train and to control the most sensitive material available to any craftsman: the living organism of a human being in all of its manifestations—mental, physical, and emotional. The actor is at once the piano and the pianist.

      Acting should not be confused with pantomime, which is a form of external movements and gestures that describes an object or an event but not its symbolic significance. Similarly, the actor is not to be mistaken for an imitator (mimesis). Many of the best imitators are unable to act in their own person or to create a character that is an extension of themselves rather than an imitation of someone else. Neither is acting mere exhibitionism; the capacity for “showing off” or entertaining at parties is quite different from the talent demanded of the actor—the ability to put oneself into another character, to create through performance a nonexistent event and bring it to its logical fulfillment, and to repeat this performance not only when one is in a favourable mood but also at specified times and places, regardless of one's own feelings on each occasion.

Genuine and feigned emotion
      The most famous instance of supposed acting in ancient Greece was that of the actor Polus performing in the Electra of Sophocles, at Athens in the 4th century BC. The plot requires Electra to carry an urn supposed to contain the ashes of Orestes and to lament and bewail the fate she believed had overtaken him. Accordingly, Polus, clad in the mourning garb of Electra, took from the tomb the ashes and urn of his own son (who had recently died), embraced them as if they were those of Orestes, and rendered not the appearance or imitation of sorrow but genuine grief and unfeigned lamentation. Rather than mere acting, this was in fact real grief being expressed.

      From antiquity, rival traditions of acting can be discerned—one stressing the externals of voice, speech, and gesture and the other looking to the actual emotional processes of the actor. Aristotle defined acting as “the right management of the voice to express (communication) the various emotions,” and this primacy of the voice as the actor's outstanding medium has been widely accepted. “Dramatic ability,” he said further, “is a natural gift, and can hardly be taught. The principles of good diction can be so taught.” Aristotle did not fall into the common mistake of thinking that acting is only good diction; rather, he simply recognized that diction, unlike acting, can be taught. He was well aware of something more than diction in acting but he knew no way of training it. Aristotle saw good acting resulting either from a great natural quickness of parts or an enthusiasm allied to madness. “By the first of these, we mold ourselves with facility to the imitation of every form; by the other, transported out of ourselves, we become what we imagine.”

      The dichotomy noted in ancient Greece persisted through ancient Roman theatre and into modern times. On the one hand, there was a recognition of the need for the actor to be affected by the sensations he wishes to arouse in others; on the other hand, a need was also seen for a precise system of expression—the peculiar look, tone, and gesture appropriate to every emotion of the mind.

      Modern European acting began with the Italian commedia dell'arte, the earliest mention of which is in 1545. Until then, the actor was limited to illustrating the text by means of a narrow scheme of gesture and rhetorical speech. But in the commedia dell'arte the actor used only an outline, a plot; he improvised (improvisation) the play, giving free rein to the actor's art, developing his own characters or masks that he repeated in each play. Each character became an extension of the actor's own personality but elastic enough to respond to innumerable dramatic situations; thus, actors began to develop the distinctive stage character of the theatre, whereas previously the emphasis had been on its literary aspects. Since this demanded high skill, the actors joined into companies—in which, incidentally, women began to take major roles for the first time, female characters having traditionally been portrayed by men. The actors became professional, and, by doing so, they stimulated the development of modern drama.

      The essential requisite for the drama is its performance. The dramatist's creation finds its fulfillment not in the writer's study but on the stage. This fulfillment can best be achieved through the contribution of the professional actor. Nonetheless, after the formation of acting companies, actors continued to learn by doing. Their schools were professional companies; their classroom, the stage; their teachers, the audience and their fellow players. Schools of dramatic art, isolated from theatres or companies, are a relative innovation in Europe and the Americas.

      In contrast, ancient traditions of actors' training have continued unbroken for many centuries in India and Japan, where particular types of theatrical experience are prescribed. India's textbook for actors, the Nāṭya-śāstra, has provided specifications for the representation of emotions down to the smallest gesture for nearly 2,000 years, and its influence is still visible in such dramatic forms as kūḍyāṭṭam, which has carried on the traditions of Sanskrit drama for about a thousand years, and in the kathakali (kathākali) dance drama, a relative newcomer that emerged contemporaneously with Shakespeare. The Nō theatre (Noh theatre) of Japan, presently divided into five distinct schools, is directly descended from the theatre of Zeami Motokiyo (1363/64–1443), an actor and author of Nō plays who codified the form in 21 treatises, the most influential of which is the Fūshi kaden (1400–18; “Appearance of Flower Transmission”), also known as the Kaden sho. Zeami's teachings, originally intended for his descendants in the Kanze school of Nō, discuss both philosophical and practical considerations regarding actors' training, and his concerns for constant training and discipline anticipate many modern approaches to acting.

Diderot's Paradox of Acting
      The most significant statement on acting is Diderot's Paradox of Acting. Because of its polemic brilliance, it remains the most widely known essay on the subject. In the 20th century it provided the guiding precepts for the influential work of the French director and actor Louis Jouvet. Outside France it has found little acceptance within the profession, though its famous paradox—that in order to move the audience the actor must himself remain unmoved—is still highly regarded.

      However disputable the solutions it proposes, Diderot's essay contains an excellent description of the actor's problem. What bothered Diderot was the unsolved problem of how the actor, if he were full, really full, of feeling, could play the same part twice running with the same spirit and success and yet be worn out and cold as marble at the third performance. Diderot confirmed this phenomenon by noting “the unequal acting of players who play from the heart. Their playing is alternately strong and feeble, fiery and cold, dull and sublime.” This was the case with an actress who in her day was the outstanding example of emotional acting. “She comes on the stage without knowing what she is going to say; half the time she does not know what she is saying; but she has one sublime moment.” Diderot knew that actors do feel and experience; but he also knew that some actors refused to recognize the need for craft, for training.

      Diderot asked how the actor, if he is himself while he is playing, is to stop being himself: how he is to catch just the point at which he is to stay his hand? Diderot demanded unity in a performance; he demanded respect for the author's concept, and he understood the difficulty of repeating a performance. He demanded a definite course to the passion—a beginning, a middle, and an end. In Diderot's day, however, the problem of developing a technique for creating inspiration in the actor remained unsolved.

      The difficulty of solving the problem is illustrated by the work of the 19th-century French teacher François Delsarte, whose influence was widespread not only in France but also in the United States. Delsarte became dissatisfied with routine acting techniques. He observed their mechanical and stultifying character and realized that under the stress of natural instinct or emotion, the body assumes appropriate attitudes and gestures quite different from those described by his teachers. But when he attempted to formulate laws of speech and gesture, on the basis of years of diligent observation and study, he created a series of elaborate pictorial descriptions that were just as mechanical as those he had originally criticized. Knowledge of affective behaviour had not advanced far enough to serve as an aid in solving the problem of the actor: there was still too little understanding of human behaviour, of the relation between the conscious and unconscious, and of the role of the senses.

Stanislavsky's (Stanislavsky, Konstantin Sergeyevich) contribution
      It is in this context that the enormous contribution in the early 20th century of the great Russian actor and theorist Konstantin Stanislavsky (Stanislavsky method) can be appreciated. Stanislavsky was not an aesthetician but was primarily concerned with the problem of developing a workable technique. He applied himself to the very problems that Diderot and others had believed insoluble: the recapture and repetition of moments of spontaneity or inspiration, which could not be controlled and repeated at will even by many of the greatest actors. In his work as director of the Moscow Art Theatre, he often experienced those flashes of intuition or inspiration that stimulate the imagination and turn something that one understands with the mind into an emotional reality and experience. Stanislavsky described such a moment occurring at a low point in the rehearsals for Chekhov's Three Sisters, when “the actors stopped in the middle of the play, ceased to act, seeing no sense in their work.” Suddenly something incomprehensible happened: an accidental sound, of someone nervously scratching his fingernails on the bench on which he sat, reminded Stanislavsky of a scratching mouse, setting off an entire sequence of previously unconscious memories that put the work at hand into a new spiritual context.

      Later, in examining parts he had played, Stanislavsky became aware of how much his characterizations had been based unconsciously on his memories (memory). With the passing of time, however, the memories and the feelings aroused by them were lost, and he began to repeat mechanically the fixed appurtenances of the role—the movements of the muscles, the mimetics of the face, eyes, arms, and body, and the physical signs of absent emotion. This led him to the perception that creativeness on stage demands a condition that he called “the creative mood.” To the genius on stage, this condition almost always comes of itself, and less talented people receive it less often. Although everyone on stage received the creative mood sometimes, none seemed able to control it with his own will.

      Stanislavsky's description of the problem thus far had reached the point at which all previous examinations had stopped. By going further and inquiring into technical means for controlling the creative mood, Stanislavsky laid the foundation for the modern approach to the actor's problem. Stanislavsky had no intention of creating inspiration by artificial means; rather, he wanted to learn how to create favourable conditions for the appearance of inspiration by means of the will. He emphasized that other artists may create whenever they are of a mind or feel inspired, but that “the artist of the stage must be the master of his own inspiration and must know how to call it forth when it is announced on the poster of the theatre.” If he is unable to find a conscious path to unconscious creativeness, the actor is forced to rely on the superficial aspects of scenic craft and theatrical cliches.

      Stanislavsky believed that the problem could be solved through advanced psychology, especially the concept of “affective memory” described by the French psychologist Théodule Ribot (Ribot, Théodule-Armand) in the 1890s. Although there has been confusion and misunderstanding about it, and its very existence has been questioned, the concept of affective memory is of prime importance for the understanding of how spontaneous and emotional experiences occur and can be repeated on the stage.

      Affective memory is the reliving of a past experience—with the accompanying positive or negative response—triggered by an analogous experience in the present. Something that has brought pain is anticipated with displeasure the second time. This displeasure, which is felt immediately, rather than remembered, is like a residue of previous appraisals. Affective memory may be linked directly to the memory of a traumatic experience, as the same situation or a similar one recurs, or to an experience that bears little apparent relation to the original, if the memory has been repressed. Of course, affective memories may stem from pleasant experiences as well as unpleasant ones. The concept of affective memory has found a place in several schools of psychology, including the Freudian and the Pavlovian, though different explanations have been offered.

      The concept of affective memory is essential to an understanding of how the actor functions and the faculties that have to be trained to develop his talent. It is his unusually sensitive affective memory that enables the actor to respond to events that must be imagined on the stage and to repeat performances. This point was stressed by Stanislavsky's great pupil Yevgeny Vakhtangov (Vakhtangov, Yevgeny Bagrationovich), who emphasized that literal emotion—emotion that derives from the presence of an object that actually stimulates it—cannot be controlled and cannot be relied upon to provide the level of response that is required in every performance.

      The use of affective memory is not limited only to acting. Wordsworth (Wordsworth, William) defined poetry as originating from “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Marcel Proust (Proust, Marcel), in a long passage in Swann's Way, brilliantly described the working of affective memory and illustrated precisely the way in which it can be recalled. Instances of its presence can be multiplied from all the arts—literary, visual, or musical. But, though in the other arts it can function unconsciously, the actor must learn to use it consciously to satisfy the unique conditions under which he must create.

      The “Method” is the name by which the totality of Stanislavsky's ideas have become most widely known in the United States, where they were chiefly promulgated by the director, actor, and teacher Lee Strasberg (Strasberg, Lee), first through the Group Theatre, established in the 1930s, and later through the Actors Studio in New York City. The Method represents a development of Stanislavsky's procedures based not only on his writings but also on his actual achievement in his major productions. It includes the work of Vakhtangov, who demonstrated that Stanislavsky's ideas apply to the essential problems of the actor in any style and not only to the realistic style most often associated with them. The Method became widely known in the mid-20th century largely through the work in films of actors such as Marlon Brando (Brando, Marlon, Jr.), Rod Steiger, and Geraldine Page (Page, Geraldine), who had studied at the Actors Studio. These actors made a powerful impression and showed a remarkable ability to bridge the gap between stage, screen, and television to an extent that aroused excitement and interest in the rest of the world. So strong was the fusion of performer and role that many of the traits of the character were confused with those of the actor, which led to serious misunderstanding. But at mid-20th century an American style of acting was being born.

      Critics who feel that the Method was only one of Stanislavsky's continually developing theories now generally refer to the more complete tradition of Stanislavsky's thought and work as the “System.” While the term Method can apply to Stanislavsky's work up to the early 1920s, it largely ignores his later developments—in particular, his embrace of the “method of physical action” in the 1930s. This was a technique that put greater emphasis on the body, with the reasoning that there is a physical aspect to thought and a mental aspect to action; by concentrating on the physical requirements of a part, an actor would become aware of a character's reasoning. In regard to rehearsal, Stanislavsky described his intentions thusly: “Start bravely, not to reason but to act. As soon as you begin to act you will immediately become aware of the necessity of justifying your actions.”

      The lesson of the Method seemed to be that a character could best be built from the inside out, using, among other techniques, affective memory, which would allow the actor consciously to draw upon genuine emotions from the past. In practice, however, the development of the “method of physical action” arose from Stanislavsky's continued questioning of his own research and was founded on the various discoveries of his own career. The System as it evolved is far from its popular image as a simple technique for introspective character development dependent for success on the personality of the actor; it is rather a process designed for the constant renewal of the actor through the renewal of the Method itself.

Later developments
      Stanislavsky was fully aware of alternative ideas regarding the work of the actor; he encouraged, for example, the early work of such a resolute experimentalist as Vsevolod Meyerhold (Meyerhold, Vsevolod Yemilyevich). Meyerhold set out, in rebellion against Stanislavsky's naturalism, to train actors for the production of highly stylized plays, such as the Symbolist dramas of Maurice Maeterlinck. His synthesis of styles gave rise to a training system known as “ biomechanics.” Borrowing from the commedia dell'arte, as well as such alien influences as Japanese Kabuki, Meyerhold sought to create an actor of athletic accomplishment who could be used by the director as a formal element in the production of a play.

      The theatre since World War II has been influenced chiefly by the ideas of Antonin Artaud (Artaud, Antonin), Bertolt Brecht, and Jerzy Grotowski (Grotowski, Jerzy). Artaud, a French avant-gardist director, actor, and playwright, exerted an enormous posthumous influence on contemporary theatre through his writings. There he proclaimed the “theatre of cruelty,” which is based on the extreme development of gesture and sensory responses by the actors so that they can communicate with the audience at a more profound psychological level than is possible through words. Artaud's ideas achieved international attention in the 1960s through the productions of Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company, especially The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, which called for emotional states verging on hysteria from most of the cast during each performance.

      Contrary to the opinion of many, Artaud thought of the theatre not as a psychological but as a plastic and physical domain and of the actor as an “athlete of the heart.” For every feeling, every mental action, and every leap of human emotion, there is a corresponding breath that is appropriate to it. Grotowski has pointed out that, if Artaud's principles are analyzed in a practical way, they lead to “stereotyped gestures, one for each emotion.” Questionable as some of Artaud's specifications might be, his achievement was to remind actors and directors that in addition to an internal truth, which the early work of Stanislavsky emphasized, there was such a thing as an external truth: what the audience sees is what it believes and feels.

      Through his plays and the remarkable productions of the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin in the 1950s, which represent the most important contribution to theatre of the post-Stanislavsky period, Bertolt Brecht (Brecht, Bertolt) generated ideas about acting that have received wide prominence and have usually been counterposed to those of Stanislavsky. Whereas in Stanislavsky-inspired productions the actors often seem to be exaggerating their individuality, Brecht's characters struck many observers as existing primarily as representatives of a class—in some cases showing self-effacement to the point of dehumanization. Brecht himself, however, denied that his ideas were opposed to those of Stanislavsky. Calling his approach epic (epic theatre) realism, he stressed that the stage of a realistic theatre must be peopled by live, three-dimensional, self-contradictory people, with all their passions, unconsidered utterances, and actions. Brecht mentioned some of Stanislavsky's procedures to which he felt indebted—the creation of the given circumstances that motivate the beginning of an event, the emphasis on creating the activity of the day that helps to define the actor's behaviour, and the individualizing of the characters that make up a mass.

      Brecht's most significant contribution to concepts of acting was his theory of the Verfremdungseffekt, usually translated into English as “ alienation effect,” though it has also been translated as “distanciation.” The aim of the technique, as Brecht described it, was to “make the spectator adopt an attitude of inquiry and criticism in his approach to the [incidents portrayed]. . . . The actor does not allow himself to become transformed on stage into the character he is portraying. He is not Lear, Harpagon, Schweik; he shows them.”

      Through maintaining a distance between the actor and the character, it should become possible for actors to comment implicitly upon the characters they are playing, even to address the audience directly about the character. By abandoning the concept of total transformation, the actor can speak his part “like a quotation,” though “at the same time he obviously has to render all the quotation's overtones, the remark's full human and concrete shape; similarly the gesture he makes must have the full substance of a human gesture even though it now represents a copy.” A Brechtian actor must not only have the ability to assume in a convincing manner the character he is portraying, but he must also be able to step aside from the character, providing commentary as necessary while sustaining the believability of the situation.

      Following Brecht and Artaud, the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski made the most thorough effort to rediscover the elements of the actor's art. From the early 1960s to the mid-1970s it was Grotowski's work with the Polish Laboratory Theatre that most stimulated and excited theatre professionals, though not all were in sympathy with the stripped-away concept of staging that he called “poor theatre.” He rejected the idea that theatre should attempt to match the spectacle and effects of film and television and declared that the primary element of theatre is the relationship between actor and spectator. The theatre can exist without makeup and without a separate stage; it can exist without lighting and sound effects; but “it cannot exist without the actor-spectator relationship of perceptual, direct, ‘live' communion.”

      Although he credited Stanislavsky with having posed the most important questions, Grotowski was not satisfied either with Stanislavsky, who let natural impulses dominate, or with Brecht, who was too much concerned, Grotowski felt, with the construction of the role. To Grotowski, the actor is an individual who works in public with his body, offering it publicly. The work with the actor's instrument consists of physical, plastic, and vocal training to guide him toward the right kind of concentration, to commit himself totally, and to achieve a state of “trance.” The actors concentrate on the search for “signs,” which express through sound and movement those impulses that waver on the borderline between dream and reality. By means of such signs, the actor's own psychoanalytic language of sounds and gestures is constructed, in the same way as a great poet creates his own language.

      In his search for the basic elements of acting, Grotowski turned to the French actor Charles Dullin's rhythm exercises, Stanislavsky's “method of physical action,” and Meyerhold's biomechanics and to the training techniques of the Peking opera, India's kathakali dance, and the Japanese Nō theatre. He emphasized, however, that he and his company were not merely accruing techniques but were using physical and mental exercises to free the actor from blocks, eliminating obstacles between the inner impulse and the outer reactions.

The actor's qualifications and training
      In view of the diversity of approaches to the actor's problems, it may seem difficult to arrive at any useful generalizations that are valid for all of them. Even among theatre groups that approach the production of a play from a fixed style or a fixed scale of expression, as in Kabuki and classic Oriental theatre generally, the same basic concerns are apparent. The following is an attempt to set down an approach that has proved successful in a variety of professional procedures.

      The qualifications of the actor are generally thought to be a good physique, a retentive memory, an alert brain, a clear, resonant voice with good articulation, and controlled breathing. While looks and the even more important element of personality are undoubtedly factors, their characteristics are difficult to determine; they are usually recognized after the actor has become successful rather than before. Many actors do not possess them offstage but seem to ignite them as soon as they begin to perform. The central element of the actor's talent, as differentiated from his means, is a special sensibility (“fire,” “enthusiasm,” “spirit,” in the words of 18th-century theoreticians), an ability to respond to imaginary stimuli and situations, which makes it possible for him to enter into the experience and emotions of the character he is to represent. These elements have always been recognized as distinguishing the great actor but were assumed to be beyond the reach of the ordinary actor; they were regarded as elements “born in him” and not susceptible to training. This is precisely the area of the modern training of the actor.

      The first stage in the training of the actor's control of his physical, mental, and psychical resources is the ability to relax. Because this ability seems to have little to do with the final achievements in acting, it is often disregarded, but it is basic to any expenditure of will and energy on his part. In a state of physical or mental tension, or both, the actor cannot think, the commands he gives himself are not transmitted, sensation is stifled, and expression is inhibited. The process of relaxation serves to clear the actor of the unnecessary pressures that he has accumulated before the moment of acting begins, to free him of blocks or interferences that may inhibit sensory responses. Physical and mental energies are comparatively easy to train, but sensory control is much more difficult. Relaxation is not a static state or effort. Often in the initial stages of training the actor is subject to strong eruptions of unconscious impulses. He must learn to continue the relaxation, to force his will to maintain his effort on the action of the nerves and the muscles.

      The converse of relaxation is concentration (attention). Everything the actor does demands concentration. His training proceeds by work with imaginary objects: working with real objects often leads to pantomimic or to physical imitation, but the actor may begin with them in order to learn how to respond with his entire organism and to apply such responses to his work with imaginary objects—the real medium of the stage—as he would to real ones. This capacity to respond to stimuli that come not from outward reality but from the promptings of one's own imagination may be seen to some extent in every human being; something akin to it is found in psychology in the study of conditioned reflexes, of automatic and spontaneous reactions, and of behaviour patterns. In heightening the sensory awareness and stimulating the senses to respond more strongly in life, the actor acquires the ability to recreate any object, sensation, or experience in the imagination.

      In strengthening his concentration, the actor uses not only will but also a process of self-awareness by which he trains the instrument that is his body and voice to respond to his commands. The very process of concentration and of commitment and involvement must include awareness. The more the actor learns to master concentration, the more aware he becomes.

      An additional factor is the development of the actor's sense of truth—a faculty particularly stressed by Stanislavsky and by followers of his System. The growth of self-awareness is useless if it is not accompanied by a correct evaluation of what is true and what is false. If the actor must rely on outside judgment and remain dependent on it, he may become insecure and lose his spontaneity and responsiveness. His mastery of inner relaxation and concentration helps him achieve a combination of spontaneity, commitment, and awareness. Thus, the actor's involvement and his awareness, rather than being in opposition to each other, are in accord.

      The actor's sense of truth is also involved in another major area of the actor's training—his work with actions (the way he behaves physically on the stage), sometimes called the “business” of the actor. Some idea must supply an incentive or intention to pull together what could otherwise be a series of disconnected and unrelated physical deeds. Some purpose, some aim must motivate the actor's will and energy. Any performance thus may be seen as a series of actions—as the score of the play—which must be carried out not simply physically but logically and truthfully. They must accomplish their purpose anew each night at every performance rather than merely repeating the external movements.

      To develop spontaneity, to train himself to behave logically and truthfully, and to listen and respond to his partner, the actor practices improvisation—dramatizing contrived situations without a script. Improvisation is of enormous importance in the process of training and also of performance. It teaches the actor to speak rather than to read his lines, and it breaks his unconscious adherence to conventional theatrical patterns of behaviour. It forces him to use his senses and often to discover not only the logic but also the significance of a scene. It compels the actor to work creatively and prevents him from reverting to skillful but mechanical repetition.

      By means of exercises that may be remote from the actual roles he plays—such as the “song and dance” (in which a song is rendered syllable by syllable unrelated to the way in which it would usually be sung, thus helping to break the unconscious habits of the actor that affect his performance) or, conversely, the spoken “inner monologue” (in which the actor speaks out what is happening to him at the moment, unrelated to the play), or others—the actor not only intensifies his capacity for experience, but also frees his blocked, or inhibited, impulses. He is enabled to deal with his own subjection to automatic habitual forms of behaviour and mannerisms and to acquire new means of expression, corresponding to the true nature and strength of his impulse.

      The basic means of the actor, which have traditionally served as the primary area of his training, are voice and body gesture. The actor's voice must be flexible and expressive (communication) of all situations and experiences. It must be able to deliver a “poor” voice or a vulgar, rough, angry, or harsh voice. It must vary as much as the events to be created. His attitudes must be those of the character—of a human who may be ill at ease, slovenly, awkward, debilitated, or natural—giving no indication that it is being accomplished by a skilled craftsman. The methods used to train these tools of the actor derive from other fields, such as from the training of the singer's voice and of some forms of dance and pantomime. These contain many useful exercises for the strengthening of the respective muscles of the voice and body. But while the technical accomplishment in the singer and in the dancer may represent a large part of what is appreciated in their performances, in the actor the very fact of the accomplishment must remain hidden. Technical accomplishment should go unnoticed by the audience.

The actor's approach to his role
      Stanislavsky suggested that the actor, in approaching his work on a scene, ask himself four questions: (1) who he is (character), (2) where he is (place), (3) what he is doing there (action and intention), and (4) what happened before he came there (given circumstances). The answers to these questions provide the actor with the necessary background for his performance, helping him to create the scene. In approaching the play in its entirety, the actor must subject his role to more intense analysis: he must search for the spine, or the kernel, of the play as well as its division into separate sections or units of actions. He must discern the beats of the play (i.e., the smallest units of dramatic action into which each role can be divided) as well as the rhythms of the play as a whole, and he must determine what adjustments must be made in his performance for each of the other characters. For some plays an additional element is necessary: the overall mood, or pervading texture, that surrounds the play or out of which the play stems. The attempt to determine it, however, may lead to an excess of verbal and mental gymnastics that are of little actual value, unless the actors have been trained in the proper procedures. The actors must act out the elements involved in the analysis in order to receive any concrete benefit from it; otherwise it may remain superficial or merely intellectual.

      Another area deserving attention is the rehearsal process. This is primarily the time in which the director's (directing) conception of the play must be harmonized with those of the actors; it is of immense importance that the actor approach the rehearsal in a creative frame of mind, ready to enlarge both his own and his colleagues' interpretations. Without a logical sequence of rehearsals, the actor's creativity cannot be properly stimulated. Without an understanding of the psychology of the rehearsal procedure, much of the work of the actor and the director may be defeated in production. There are, for example, significant possibilities in the reading rehearsal, in which the actors, usually seated in a circle, read aloud from the script and discuss its meanings as they proceed through it. There is enormous value in improvisation, when it is understood and used correctly. The relation between the individual actor and the ensemble is welded during the rehearsals, and it is during rehearsals that the director “blocks” the scenes and the actors memorize their lines.

Styles of performance
      In an effort to bring new life to plays of the past and present and to advance the imaginative possibilities of theatre, there has been a rediscovery of “style” in the 20th century. Style is the attribute of any complete achievement; it is not merely the manners and customs of a particular period. Such manners may be more strikingly elegant compared with those of the present, but they remain only manners. The Elizabethan form of theatre had conflicting styles within it, judging from a description of them in Hamlet, and so did the Greek and the French classical theatre. Even in Kabuki and Nō theatre there have been conflicts of styles like those in Western theatre.

      Style is not, as is sometimes assumed, the opposite of realism. Neither is it necessarily characterized by an expansiveness or broadness in acting. Style is the angle from which reality is observed. It is an attribute of all creative activity—not just of period or classic plays. The search for the specific content and reality of a play leads to style. The search for style in itself or in the traditions of the past often leads to empty forms.

      Just as style should not be identified with a particular period, neither should it be associated with specific playwrights. Such terms as Shakespearean style (Shakespeare, William) or Chekhovian (Chekhov, Anton) style actually refer to the theatrical conventions traditionally associated with those dramas—a rhetorical and “larger than life” manner in the first and a static “mood” in the latter. These elements are little related to style; otherwise great Shakespearean and Chekhovian productions could be re-created generation after generation in precisely the same way. The fact is that those dramas must be continually re-created from the new views of each emerging generation.

      The term style is often used incorrectly in reference to the theatrical conditions that simulate the original concept, structure, and dynamics of a play. The rediscovery in the 20th century of the Shakespearean stage, for example, led to a new quickness and fluidity, a nearly cinematic technique, in presenting Shakespeare's plays, but these techniques should not be interpreted as the original and therefore correct style of production. Shakespeare continues to be presented in a vast range of styles, even by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has offered A Midsummer Night's Dream as a circus and The Merry Wives of Windsor as a 1950s suburban morality play.

      Practice has shown that the use of methods traditionally associated with particular types of theatre may bring a fresh understanding to totally unrelated theatrical forms. Ariane Mnouchkine's use of Oriental styles in her Paris productions of Shakespeare, for example, was particularly successful in transmitting the ideas of Shakespeare to a French audience notoriously dubious of Shakespeare's charms.

Techniques of performance
      The fundamentals of the actor's art remain the same no matter how bizarre the dramatic context: the actors may portray abstractions, for example, as in Stanislavsky's (Stanislavsky, Konstantin Sergeyevich) 1908 production of Maurice Maeterlinck's allegorical fantasy The Bluebird; they may play a band of actors producing a play, which they then proceed to perform in a vivid theatrical fashion, as in Yevgeny Vakhtangov's production of Turandot, a play by the 18th-century Italian Carlo Gozzi; they may invade the stage as people who demand that their story be told to an audience, as in Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author; or they may assume the distorted attitudes appropriate to an expressionist world, as in the classic horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).

      The growth of motion pictures (motion picture), especially the rise of the “talkies,” beginning in 1927, greatly affected acting, as theatre talent was diverted from the stage. The requirements of acting in motion pictures, television, theatre, and opera are basically the same, although some of the techniques are different. It is possible to put strips of film together and create a performance that never was actually given. The performance is created by the director rather than by the actor. There have been performers in motion pictures who were thus completely products of the camera and contributed little from an acting point of view, depending rather on their physical charms and personality. Others, however, have been authentic actors, who developed a style perfectly suited to the medium; Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin, Charlie), for example, ranks as one of the greatest actors of all time in any medium.

      Despite the technical demands that are unique to each medium, the properly trained actor moves easily from one medium to another without any diminution of his talent. In the past, those who were trained in the rhetorical and theatrical gesture approach sometimes found difficulty in making the transition to films. The theatre can diminish the impact of action and voice, requiring a heightened intensity to project emotion and meaning to the audience. The camera, however, exaggerates action and emotion. Some actors find it difficult to perform scenes out of sequence, as is usually done in films, and for other actors the close-up can be intimidating. But the fact is that actors training for films usually use the same exercises as theatrical actors—working with imaginary objects and partners, performing appropriate physical and psychological tasks, and others. Moreover, most of the preeminent actors of the 20th century, such as Laurence Olivier (Olivier, Laurence, Baron Olivier of Brighton), John Gielgud, Louis Jouvet, Katharine Hepburn (Hepburn, Katharine), Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino, have been outstanding in both film and theatre.

      The contemporary theatre is characterized by many plays that demand more dynamic and more imaginative physical actions of the actors than previously and that utilize a diversity of audiovisual effects and multimedia devices, particularly in musicals. Under the need to fulfill these demands, acting could easily revert to its old-fashioned externalized forms. In addition, the development of repertory theatres in North America, Britain, and elsewhere, with their eclectic repertoires and their combinations of contemporary and classic plays, could lead to a search for meretricious “style” rather than for genuine content. These pitfalls may be avoided, however, in much the same way as those that faced the actor in previous epochs, by understanding the true fundamentals of the art of acting.

Lee Strasberg Ned Chaillet

Additional Reading
Although the literature on actors and acting is overwhelming, most of it is of little informational value. The best anthology, with useful notes and bibliography, is Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy (eds.), Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the Great Actors of All Times as Told in Their Own Words, rev. ed. (1970). The most valuable individual statements are those of Luigi Riccoboni, F.J. Talma, and William Gillette; some of these are reprinted completely in Papers on Acting, edited by Brander Matthews (1958), which also includes the polemic between Henry Irving and C. Coquelin. A useful introduction to the literature is Edwin Duerr, The Length and Depth of Acting (1962), though flawed by the inability to relate theory to practice.Basic to modern understanding are Konstantin Stanislavsky, An Actor Prepares, translated from the Russian (1936, reissued 1980), Building a Character (1949, reissued 1979), and Creating a Role (1961, reissued 1981), English trans. edited and abridged by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. Stanislavski's Legacy: A Collection of Comments on a Variety of Aspects of an Actor's Art and Life, rev. and expanded ed., edited and translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood (1968, reissued 1971), collects further fragments of his thoughts on acting and its critics, as well as his memories of Anton Chekhov. Also useful are Robert Lewis, Method or Madness? (1958); Lee Strasberg, “Acting and the Training of the Actor,” in John Gassner, Producing the Play, rev. ed. (1953); Robert Hethmon (ed.), Strasberg at the Actors Studio (1965); Richard Boleslavski, Acting: The First Six Lessons (1933, reprinted 1980); and Jean Benedetti, Stanislavski, an Introduction (1982). For a proper appreciation of Stanislavsky's approach, the work of his pupil Yevgeny Vakhtangov is essential, a brilliant description of which is in Nikolai Gorchakov, The Vakhtangov School of Stage Art (1959?; originally published in Russian, 1957). Contributions on acting that add dimensions to the study of the art come from Joseph Chaikin, The Presence of the Actor (1972, reprinted 1980); Charles Marowitz, The Act of Being (1978); Michel Saint-Denis, Theatre: The Rediscovery of Style (1960); Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater (1963, reissued 1983); John Hodgson and Ernest Richards, Improvisation, new rev. ed. (1974, reprinted 1979); and Michael Chekhov, To the Actor: On the Technique of Acting (1953, reissued 1985).Essential texts on Oriental theatre include J. Thomas Rimer and Masakazu Yamazaki (trans.), On the Art of the No Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami (1984); and Jisho Hachimonjiya, The Actors' Analects, edited and translated by Charles J. Dunn and Bunzo Torigoe (1969), a collection of “advice and notes” by Kabuki actors of the 17th century. Modern Japanese ideas are explored in Suzuki Tadashi, The Way of Acting, trans. from Japanese (1986). British acting tradition is analyzed in Antony Sher, Year of the King: An Actor's Diary and Sketchbook (1985), a revealing memoir of his creation of the role of Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Simon Callow, Being an Actor (1984); and Laurence Olivier, On Acting (1986), a book on craft.No history of acting can be written without a knowledge of what acting consists of and the creative processes involved. German students have in specialized studies and dissertations tried to formulate methods for studying the actor's work by examining critical descriptions, stage directions, and iconographical material. A bibliography is available in Hans Knudsen, Methodik der Theaterwissenschaft (1971). Lee Strasberg Ned Chaillet

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Universalium. 2010.

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