[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/27546?ns=guardian&pageName=Noises+off%3A+what%27s+the+best+way+to+train+an+actor%3F%3AArticle%3A1313321&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CStage%2CCulture+section&c6=Chris+Wilkinson&c7=09-Dec-02&c8=1313321&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=Noises+off+%28Stage+blog+series%29&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FTheatre[/img]To use method, or not use method, is the question this week. Plus: do American audiences get farce?
"Learn the lines and don't bump into the furniture." Such were the words of NoŽl Coward when discussing the art of acting. Of course, few people would claim that the performer's art was this simple. Acting is not just the art of transforming yourself into something else; it also requires the skill to make what has been carefully rehearsed look completely spontaneous night after night. How you go about achieving this, however, is a moot point. What is the best way to train an actor? Or is great acting ultimately about instinct and natural talent?
This is our first question this week, asked by Isaac Butler at Parabasis. Butler is responding to this fascinating article by Charles McNulty in the LA Times about the 40th birthday of the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. The acting school, founded by the late Lee Strasberg, has become famous for propagating the method approach to acting and counts Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino amongst its alumni. What Butler is particularly struck by is the ambivalence that so many of those who have been involved with this school feel toward it: "McNulty is only able to find one actor who praises Strasberg and his particular version of the method, and that's Estelle Parsons. And even she gives the qualification that it was useful to her because she had already developed technical chops in touring and community theater."
However, David Strasberg, son of Lee and the man who now runs the institute, has been quick to defend its work on his blog. He argues that no single article can capture the complex and lengthy process of actor training: "People like to talk about theories of acting. But we are not theoretical. My father said our work is not a theory because a theory is something which has not yet been proven. So far, no interview has ever been able to capture that element in our training. How do you explain or describe the change in your life when you gain knowledge of yourself? When you learn discipline? When you learn a new skill? These moments are not accomplished by sitting around talking."
On the subject of how performance is understood across the pond, another big question this week is: do Americans really get farce? Chloe Veltman of Lies Like Truth was recently discussing this with a British director friend of hers whom she ran in to at a performance of Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce at the Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley, California. Her friend argued that "there's a tradition of slapstick in the US, but not farce" and he went on to say that as a result, American actors were never quite able to buy into the "crazy circumstances" of a traditional farce in the same way that British ones do. Their performances, he says, always end up feeling too "knowing", with the actors creating too much of "a comfortable distance between themselves and the play". Without having seen a great deal of comparable British and American productions, it is, of course, impossible to say whether or not this is true.
Finally, much has been said recently about the looming threat of funding cuts to the arts; the loss of cash is going to have a hugely negative impact on the industry. But help is potentially at hand. The Canada-based Praxis Theatre blog is drawing attention to this campaign by an organisation called BeautifulCity.ca to create a tax on billboard advertising in Toronto in order to raise funds for the arts. As Praxis explains: "The premise of the campaign is that billboard advertising, unlike all other forms of advertising, provides no content to the public in exchange for taking up public space." It is a brilliantly simple, logical idea which, if implemented over here, could surely help plug the growing hole in the arts council coffers. Somebody get Boris Johnson on the line.
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Guardian: Noises off: what's the best way to train an actor?
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