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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: July ::
Re: Acting Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0506.  Saturday, 6 July 1996.

From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Jul 1996 00:56:21 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 7.0498 Re: Acting Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0498 Re: Acting Shakespeare

Thanks to Milla Riggio for posting what Michael Kahn "really said."  In looking
back at the post that touched off this particular furor, I find that her precis
of his statement was indeed fairly accurate: of course, in the much shorter
version, a number of *potentially* volatile statements were left unexplained.
But there's really nothing there to elicit a firestorm.

Why, then, the immoderation (including my own)?  I suspect it has more to do
with tone than with content: the implication (perceived by me, whether or not
intended) that actors are, as a class, unable to see that post-Stanislavskian
techniques don't always (ever?) work terribly well on pre-modern plays.  I have
no doubt that such actors do exist, but in my own experience of acting in and
directing pre-modern plays, I have known perhaps two or three actors who might
arguably have believed that even close to (literally) 90% of the meaning of a
speech in a pre-modern play is "submerged".  The several dozen others would put
the figure at well under 50%, probably (on average) around 15%.  True, that's
not 0%, as Michael Kahn suggests, but even he can get to that figure only by a
semantic quibble. He even points out such characters as Iago and Richard III,
who tell us that they are about to engage in (what?) metatheatre (?).  Thus,
their subsequent actions are not literally SUB-textual, but they do represent a
character's saying something and (specifically, unequivocally) not meaning it.
That's what many (most?) actors would mean by the term "sub-text".  But I
really don't want to nit-pick here: or to deny Kahn a little hyperbole, if such
indeed it is.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly New Historicist here, I would suggest that
Kahn is a man of his times.  When he first started in the business, the Method
was the single dominant theory of American actor training.  That is no longer
the case, and even those courses which emphasize Stanislavskian and/or
post-Stanislavskian techniques now do so with far greater circumspection than
may have been true a generation ago.  Or at least so anecdotal evidence would
seem to suggest.  My own teaching is less based on American Method than it was
a decade ago, which in turn was less "Method" than my own training a decade
before that, which was in turn less "Method" than that of a decade earlier
still.  Many teachers, myself included, have adopted a pragmatic (I hope!)
eclecticism: the last time I taught Acting II, I used three texts: David Ball's
_Backwards and Forwards_, Cicely Berry's _The Actor and the Text_, and Uta
Hagen's _Respect for Acting_.  A little something for everyone...

Anyway, I'm STILL unclear about Milla Riggio's (dare I say it?) motivation for
posting the original Kahn paraphrase.  How does this approach (or any other,
for that matter) lead us to choose one interpretation over another in a case in
which the specifics of meaning are not predetermined by the text?  That is, no
one is suggesting (or at least I'm not) that Shylock wouldn't jump at the
chance of revenge should it present itself.  The question is the extent of that
revenge: death? public humiliation? economic ruin?  I believe there is a case
to be made for any of these options: I know which one I'd choose, but that's
another matter.  The point is that whatever choice is made will affect and be
affected by a multitude of other choices: provided these choices create a
coherent and consistent set of images/responses, I'm all for whichever choice
an individual director and actor choose.

With apologies for the intemperance of a couple posts ago... and for the length
of this one,

Rick Jones

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