|Meryl can do it, but just what is acting?|
Honour Bayes: Acting with a capital A
Date: 23 August 2012
This year I'm on the panel of The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s meant that I’ve been able to see some stunning shows that I would have missed otherwise – most notably Thread and Mess (which, if you get the chance I urge you to catch).
In a playing field full of prizes I can see why The Stage has plumped for acting. It is an industry paper after all and the specificity means these awards have carved out a rightfully important place for themselves.
But this singular focus has made me look closely at exactly what it is that we are comparing – just what is ‘acting’? Set up to “recognise outstanding theatre performances by individuals and companies on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe,” the nominations list this year for each award is gloriously varied, but each has been chosen within a strict set of parameters.
Whilst the Best Actor and Best Actress awards speak for themselves, for the newer (and in my mind essential) categories, Best Ensemble and Best Solo Show, measuring ‘acting’ is often a harder task. Some shows which include ‘outstanding performances’ do not include any ‘acting’ and are therefore by their very nature are not eligible.
Can you give an acting award to someone for being themselves or a version of themselves?”
To pinpoint why this is leads us to question what ‘acting’ itself is and how we can measure it. In recent years with the rise of autobiographical and live art work, the thin line between character and self has blurred. Can you give an acting award to someone for being themselves or a version of themselves? Can you award an acting prize for astonishing physical ensemble work that favours form and structure over psychology?
I don’t think so. In such instances it has become necessary for us to distinguish between a ‘performance’ and an ‘acted’ one.
When I think of Acting (with a capital A) I think of believability, of becoming consumed and communicating a character’s story that isn’t the teller’s own. In the most basic sense – truthfully portraying someone else.
Initially I also think of the absence of ego (a la Meryl Streep) but this discounts actors such as Mark Rylance - who, while creating an utterly believable character, also appear as themselves too - which is obviously mad. Rylance extends himself to expand the people he is playing, using his own personality traits to makes theirs clearer.
I’m aware that to a certain extent this is a traditional sense of what it means to act but it is also a modern one. Laurence Olivier’s expansive performances would seem out of place now, as would Richard Burbage's who, whilst considered by contemporaries as naturalistic, also adhered to the more representational styles of the day. In a post-Stanislavski world ‘inner truth’ is the ultimate king and it’s a fiefdom that I still partially pay homage to.
How would you gauge it? As I go from show to show my own criteria are sharpening - versatility, believability, being present in the space, psychological clarity and skill are all vital for me. But some would say that these are things any performer could offer - what makes an actor an Actor for you?
- by Honour Bayes
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
|Honour is a freelance arts journalist who has written for a number of publications including the Guardian, the Stage, Time Out, Total Theatre, FEST Magazine and the Church Times. She was Theatre Editor of Fourthwall and is on the editorial team at Exeunt Magazine where she is the host of a bi-monthly arts podcast. Honour blogs at http://theatreworkbook.wordpress.com|
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|Surely you can only ever play a version of yourself when you act?
You are you and you can never escape that. No matter what role you're playing, its *you* standing on the stage. Its *you* saying the lines. An actor prepares by thinking "Ok, what would have to have happened to me, and how would I have to be feeling, to act and say things like this." As an actor you can observe other people and notice their traits or idiosyncrasies that ultimately inspire your character, but its still you doing them. Just another version of you. Perhaps imagined, perhaps recalled, but its always you. That is, as long as you're acting - not performing.
When you perform, nothing is organic. Its planned and its timed to look and sound like something else. No one could ever "act" in a role playing a real person who we've seen move and heard speak. As an actor, you would be imitating as best you can that person, and you may be playing the situation as truthfully as possible, but we all know you're pretending to be someone else and so we don't believe you're real.
The problem with actors like Meryl Streep is that you can see them acting. Its almost a performance in itself. When Audrey Hepburn was asked what she thought of Streep's acting - she said "Click click click" - implying that you could see the gears working. And although her performances are very impressive technically, I'd agree that you're always aware she's working. And so its hard to feel anything real about that.
At the Fringe especially there's so many one-man shows or storytellers, so I see your point about playing a version of yourself there. Personally I feel any show where the actor is directly addressing the audience for the entirety of the show it isn't acting, its performing. It can be very good, but they're telling a story - not living a story. Its hard to make a moment believable when you are narrating what's happening.
It sounds cliche and over-simplistic to say acting is about being real, but thats really all it is. If they're not believable, then what are they? Forgivable?
Its about just looking the other actor in the eye, reacting to them and telling them the truth.
In terms of how you "judge" that, I do not envy you! But surely it doesn't matter how far away from the actor's actual personality the character is, if you believe it and you thought it was real, and it looked effortless - then thats all there is. If you were sitting there knowing exactly how they did it, then they're performing. - Riley||01 Sep 12|
By contemporary standards he may have been considered naturalistic, but by today's standards he would not have been. I have amended the blog to reflect that this what I meant. Thank you. - Honour||23 Aug 12|
|We have no idea how Burbage acted, since (obviously) there are no visual or audio records of him. However, contemporary reviews suggest he acted 'to the life' (some even alluding to a Method-like approach); and we can surmise that to have so many parts written expressly for him of unparalleled psychological depth, he must have been capable of both realism and theatricality. To call his acting 'posturing' is unsubstantiated by contemporary records and is based on the false assumption that psychological realism is a Stanislavskian discovery; this is lazy and uninformed writing. - Ben||23 Aug 12|
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