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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: September ::
Re: Scholars, Actors, Readers, Authors . . .
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No.0749.  Monday, 26 September 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Dan Patterson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 15:55:59 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Yet another actor
 
(2)     From:   Elizabeth Y. Zeria <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Sep 94 9:58:14 EDT
        Subj:   Readers, Actors, and Authors
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan Patterson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 15:55:59 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Yet another actor
 
I have felt somewhat dismayed, reading this list for some time now, to see how
passionately and neatly people line up in the two stereotypical camps: Scholars
vs Artists.  This argument over whether characters exist completely within the
text as defined by the playwright, or are simply incomplete sketches to be
completely interpreted by actors, seems too simplistic.  Doesn't the truth (as
always), lie somewhere in the middle?  Isn't the actor free to interpret when
given the room to do so by the playwright?  Wouldn't a good playwright be
sensitive to the creative abilities of the actor by giving them a certain
latitude?  I believe I remember Tennessee Williams saying that he believed his
plays were always skeletal in structure  and fully expected and fervently hoped
that they would find their "flesh" in production.  Of course, Tennessee Willams
isn't Shakespeare.  But wasn't Shakespeare also an actor?
 
I have been trained as an actor to try to flesh out any character I play as far
as I can without compromising the intentions of the playwright, the focus of a
scene, or the meaning of the play.  As a Twentieth Century actor, I cannot work
in any other way.  If I am to be a messenger, I want to know how the messenger
feels about the message.  It may not matter to anyone else but me, but it gives
me so much more to work with and makes me feel better about my work.  If the
audience sees it and it serves the intentions of the scene, so much the better.
 
I have thirteen of the Bard's works under my belt as an actor, not counting the
ones I have done more than once.  No one has ever complained about the way I
work, and I can modestly claim that more than a few of them have been very
successful.  To me the text is of utmost importance for providing me with the
clues I need to make the character live on the stage.  When I feel I have
exhausted the information provided to me by the playwright, then I begin to
flex my own creative muscles, always trying to move down the path indicated by
the text.  It usually works.  That's my bottom line.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elizabeth Y. Zeria <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Sep 94 9:58:14 EDT
Subject:        Readers, Actors, and Authors
 
Tom Loughlin wrote:
> Language is such a tricky and imprecise tool for understanding that I hope
> the day will come when we find another tool to make ourselves better
> understood amongst each other.
 
Aye, aye.  I continue to maintain that we are all arguing a non- argument,
seeing dissension where at root there is none.  I think the range in
interpretation of the postings themselves proves the point of the discussion
itself.
 
As Bernice noted, we do indeed all come to text/performance with an individual
perspective molded by our own lifetime of experience/reading/performing/etc.
And most certainly that perspective helps mold our interpretation of text or
play.  I do think, however, that an educated perspective (educated in the sense
of having read and experienced broadly enough to question both the object and
our perception of it) allows interpretation both in light of and in spite of
the cultural baggage we bring to reading/viewing.  And Bernice, I never
maintained (or never meant to, ah this tricky language) that what we read in
text is "exactly" what is there, and all there is.  I hoped to say that what we
read in the text provides some pretty clear cues to performance/interpretation.
 Most certainly there is a range. But there is also a point at which
interpretation leaves the page and rewrites the play.  I have been speaking
specifically of TS, and my comments pertained only to that play as one in which
I think it is next to impossible, without altering the action and dialogue, not
to view Bianca as at least shrewd, in some ways shrew, and certainly not the
pliant being she would have her father and suitors see her as.  Other plays
offer more scope for varied interpretation...I think Lear is such a one.
 
But back to TS...and Tom:
 
> As a practitioner of the art of theatre for better than 20 years of my adult
> life, I will defend to the death that I CAN, in fact, make any character what
> I want that character to be.  I have the freedom to do this; I make the
> choices, I execute the action on stage.  If you can't understand this concept,
> then the true nature of theatre from the point of view of the practitioner is
> lost upon you.
 
> HOWEVER, I will also defend to the death YOUR right, as an audience member,
> to disagree completely, vociferously, and heatedly, with my choices.  They
> don't work for you, you think they violate the text, you think the character
> shouldn't be interpreted that way, etc. etc.  OK.  But the hell of playwriting
> - and it is indeed a hell - is that it requires, nay, demands that actors be
> the vehicles through which the play is interpreted and its meaning is
> conveyed.
 
I don't think anyone is disagreeing with this!  I don't think anyone has
suggested that certain choices should NOT be made, or that the text is
"violated" in making them.  I certainly am not. "Violated" implies that the
text is *harmed* in the altering. No.  Though I do believe that certain
interpretations can only be played by altering the text, I don't believe such
alteration harms the original, is sacrilegious, whatever.  I enjoy seeing how
others interpret characters and texts.
 
I too will defend your right and freedom to make any character what you want.
And there are certainly instances when just altering action, movement,
mannerisms will do that.  There are also times when only altering dialogue or
staging (as in deleting or rearranging scenes, dialogue, etc.) will effectively
alter interpretation.  I am not disallowing the latter -- only saying that some
characters, and I tend to see Bianca as one such, allow less range of
interpretation without alteration of text than others.  And most certainly some
productions/interpretations/characterizations ring "truer" -- play better --
than others.  There is certainly a range, especially in Shakespeare (which is
what makes his plays so satisfying to read and perform -- they are so densely
layered with implications that they seem to grow with us, as cultures and
individuals change and alter perspectives, still they find something with which
to identify, something which speaks to their situation or state of mind).  Nor
am I saying that I frown on alteration of text.  Not at all!  We wouldn't have
many of these plays if Shakespeare hadn't done so himself (both in sense of
altering the texts of others and his own)!  Art should and does build on
itself.  We must simply make clear, in our discussions, whether we are
discussing how a character/scene/play might be altered, or what we think the
range of performance as written might be.  And I think we, as educated people,
might allow that there will be some disagreement.  I say I think Bianca, if
played without alteration of scene or dialogue, can only appear to me
shrewd/shrewish.  That does not mean I think she must appear as such to all.  I
said earlier that I am open, very open, to the idea "that my interpretation is
my own."
 
And by the way, Bernice, I never said I "discovered the meaning" of this play
or Bianca's role in it.  I would never say that.  I said I arrived at my
"judgment" of it before seeing it performed.  Again, I do NOT believe in the
"one true meaning" tenet of literature...especially not in Shakespeare.
Shakespeare wrote for an incredibly diverse audience...he'd have been a fool to
aim at only one distinct and possible interpretation/appreciation.  Again, I
believe there is range of possible interpretations of and ways to appreciate
these plays. But I also believe there are some with wider range than others,
and that in many cases those interpretations require alteration of the
playwright's text (and probably differ from the performance the playwright had
in mind as he or she wrote).
 
As in the Kate-with-children version of TS...I like that...but you will admit
it isn't written into the text.   And I never said I thought that
couldn't/shouldn't be done.  I only, I repeat, I only said that it would take
rewriting of text to make certain interpretations.  And I also said it might be
done "quite interestingly."
 
Pardon, please, the extent of this response -- but as much range as I wish to
give interpretation of literature (wherein lies its value, I maintain), I
really hate to have my own remarks misread!
 
Elizabeth Youngs Zeria
 

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