By wsfproducer, 09-Dec-2012 23:13:00
Without these, there is no Theatre; these are all that is Essential to the Creation of Theatre.
• An Artist who Crafts performances for an Audience
• The imaginary conditions that give rise to and must be considered in Playing
• The imaginary individual Playing within a specific set of Circumstances
• The non-Players with whom Play is shared
By wsfproducer, 05-Dec-2012 05:06:00
Acting is behaving believably under imaginary circumstances.
Set within the context of properly understood imaginary circumstances, this takes the focus off of the actor and puts it with the audience. It does not matter whether or not the actor has an experience or not, feels an emotion or not, believes what he is doing or not, identifies with the character or not, it only matters that the audience finds the actor’s behavior to be believable within the imaginary circumstances of the play.
The audience cannot see an actor’s thoughts, intentions, back-story, emotions, magic ifs, substitutions, or objectives; the audience can only see and experience what the actor actually does on the stage. And, to be effective, what the actor does must be believable to the audience. No matter how outrageous, or subtle, so long as it is believable to the audience, it is effective. And effectiveness, as measured by the audience for whom we play (as well as by our own artistic sensibilities), is a much better and, ultimately, finer arbiter of our work than our own, all to often, self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing feelings.
When we behave believably within the imaginary circumstances of the play, we create the illusion of truthful living…for the audience…by the character…in the play.
By wsfproducer, 02-Dec-2012 07:06:00
Sanford Meisner defined acting as living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
Of the three essential elements of this definition, the final element, imaginary circumstances, is crucial in terms of setting the context for the other two, living and truthfully. Circumstances refer to all of the elements of the play that come to bear upon its performance. Here the idea of the play must be clearly understood. The play is the imaginary reality in which the characters exist and live out their imaginary lives. The play is what is directly provided by the playwright, the perceptual concept provided by the director, and the interpretive choices made by the actors in service of the playwright and the director. Everything else, e.g. lighting, costumes, music, sound, all of the elements that can be termed production, are peripheral to the play and, while they all may, and, ideally, should contribute to its performance, are not necessary to its performance. This is the fundamental reason that theatre is infinitely generative: given the same script, every new constellation of artists will generate a different play. Indeed, even if all of the production values are rigidly controlled for and precisely the same night after night, the play itself as performed will be unique to the particular artists performing it at that particular time.
The key word in this part of the definition, however, is imaginary. Nothing that happens in the play is real. The production itself is real; the play is imaginary. No matter how natural or realistic a setting may be, it is not what it purports to be. No matter how believably the actors may behave, they are not the characters they portray and they are not doing what they appear to be doing. The play is an imaginary reality, a symbolic construct that, when successful, points to something concrete in the lives of its audience.
Acting takes place within a set of imaginary circumstances: a framework of fundamentally unreal, though fully realized, details that create a context within which the audience may empathetically engage the playing and come away changed for the experience.
Acting is not living, nor is it truthful.
Living the part is not acting, it is schizophrenia, a breakdown of the distinctions between what is real and what is imaginary. The actor is always there witnessing the acting. No matter how immersed an actor may become in a role or a scene or a play, this witness always remains. Ideally, it is this witness that guides the performance, keeping it from becoming self-indulgent. This is the danger in the misuse of Meisner’s definition, it can lead to a self-indulgent quest for the actor’s holy grail: being in the moment. Characters are never in the moment. This is patently obvious when you accept that characters do not exist, they are imaginary. The actor who destroys the integrity of a scene and claims that his actions were justified because he was in the moment and that’s what his character would have done, betrays a terrible ignorance of his craft and a willful disregard for his part in the whole play.
It is the actor that must be in the moment, not the character. The actor, as Witness, must strive to be fully alive and present from moment to moment to moment in order to guide the performance, to respond properly to subtle (or not so subtle) changes in individual performances, and to revel in the playing. It is this revelry that is the actor’s greatest pleasure in performance: the scintillant joy that comes from the playing itself, a playing that is completely imaginary.
Acting is not truthful. There is nothing of the truth about it. It is a lie. At its best, it is a sublimely well-crafted lie that the audience freely agrees to buy into. At its worst, it exposes itself for the lie that it is in performances that are unwatchable and which an audience, no matter how forgiving, cannot participate in.
Like living, truthfully centers the actor on himself and on his personal reality, which is of no concern to the audience. It doesn’t matter whether or not the actor feels the living truth of his character’s circumstances, it only matters that the audience does. We are here to give them an experience through our experience. Acting is not about the actor, it’s about the audience. It’s about what we give to the them.
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