Thursday, 10 January 2013

Actors on Acting

Actors, why did you get into acting?

Was it to play yourself in different situations?

Or was it to play different characters in their situations?

I'd like to hear what draws you to this art form, as there are differing opinions about actors and the roles they ought and want to play.  There is a school of thought that the person you are is who you can play. I call this stereotyping and I am against this.  I think that the person you are should never limit the roles you play.  An actor is trained at being empathetic and open to a myriad of situations and types of people, and it is their talent and job to relate this combination to the audience.  To be clear: The actor does not have to already be the character in real life to best portray the role.  (Actually, perspective often creates a more 3 dimensional and emotionally layered character. It's more difficult to do this when you are playing a role similar to yourself, although a good actor can do this.)

I'd like to tell a story about my theatre school days.  Our class had a project assigned to us.  It was to create/ write our own monologue based on a painting (U of W students may know what I'm talking about.  Ye olde "Painting Project" it was called).  

I had decided that I wanted to write a dramatic piece that was really emotional because it was something I hadn't done before and I wanted to challenge myself.  

The piece ended up being about France during the war and a daughter losing her father.  (I also had a secret desire to cry in the piece, as I had never done that before, and I wondered if I had it in me to get there emotionally blah blah).  SO at the end of the piece the girl finally lets herself feel the pain of losing her father and I broke down and it totally worked.  

During the end of project / grading interviews where the Prof. and student discuss the work and the reason the grade was given I had a strange experience.  I received an A on my project and we discussed the material and why I chose the painting etc.  At the point in the interview that we discussed the "tears" moment, the following exchange occurred (to the best of my memory it went something like this):

Prof:   It must have been very difficult, with your father gone, to go to that place.
Me:  ?
Prof:  Your father dying.
Me:  My father is still alive.  I was acting.

That is approximately what I remember happening.  I also remember being a little confused and hurt that the Prof. thought I would put my reality on the stage for a school project.  I was in an acting class.  I was practicing acting.

It didn't take me long to find the whole thing very funny, and interpret the experience as an example of the power an actor has to transform themselves and commit to the reality of the moment in order to transport the audience into the world of the piece. 

This brings me to my final point.  I truly believe you do not have to be the type of person to do the things your character would do.  You do have to be an actor.

So, Actors, What do you think?

(Please note: I don't believe crying onstage equals good acting.  It can be a result of good acting, and can be great.  But a lot of people (actors and non-actors) can cry on demand without emotional investment, so one does not equal the other. I happen to think that sometimes it is more moving to watch someone try NOT to cry than to watch the waterworks.  In the words of the great Winnipeg actor Doreen Brownstone "If you (the actor) cry, they (the audience) won't.")

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