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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: September ::
Re: The Power of Words
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1799  Monday, 25 September 2000.

[1]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Sep 2000 12:40:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words

[2]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Sep 2000 16:57:43 -0700
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words

[3]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Sep 2000 18:41:00 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Sep 2000 12:40:50 -0400
Subject: 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words

I'm coming in late so I don't know if it was mentioned, but wasn't this
powerfully dealt with in the recent Midsummer movie when the young man
playing Thisbe removed his wig while mourning Pyramus?

I know I found him as riveting as did the audience on the screen.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Sep 2000 16:57:43 -0700
Subject: 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words
Comment:        Fw: SHK 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words

I guess I opened a can of worms when I brought this one up ... the
discussion has become quite heated. I'd like to make a few final
observations, however, in response to the last postings.

> From Mike Jensen: ... Three or four
> years ago I saw Judi Dench play a part 20 years too young for her.  I
> stopped noticing in seconds.  I interviewed Mel Gibson shortly before
> the release of his Hamlet film.  Mel is short and rather small boned,
> yet he fills a room.

There we have it! We might also remember that Dame Judi was, in her
youth, criticized (as a classical actress) for being short! Surprise ...
she "overcame" her "handicap" in the grand style, didn't she?

> Yes, we can all site examples of actors who failed to overcome their
> bodies in certain roles, but I would not count an actor of Anthony
> Sher's gifts out until he has proven he can't do it - yes, even Abraham
> Lincoln.

I think Mike has hit the mark with this one. A good actor can overcome
almost any impediment to the character. Was anyone bothered by Patrick
Stewart or Derek Jacobi as Claudius? They were both intelligent, well
rounded, and sincere readings of a very masculine character. I didn't
notice anything particularly "gay" from either of their performances.
Did anyone?  In fact, I've never noticed anything particularly "gay"
about Stewart's physicality.

> From Bob Haas:
> This may not be the best analogy because sometimes, yes, alcoholic
> actors cannot perform a sober character . . . whenever their problem
> gets in the way of any performance.  I'm doing a lot of research on
> Richard Burton right now and for a good part of his career, his alcohol
> abuse didn't infringe upon his professional abilities.  Later on,
> however, it did catch up to him.

I would never deny that alcoholism is dangerous to an actor, or anyone
else, but I saw Burton both on screen and on stage, including his
monumental Hamlet. I have never noticed that he was drunk, even when I
learned later that he was. Robert Newton, apparently, had this ability,
too. The point is that the actor was able, at least for a time, to
overcome his personal idiosyncrasies in the interest of his art.

> But this is besides the point.  ... would we recognize
> alcoholism in the same category of affliction as bigotry?  Probably not.

Yes, I think you have raised a good point. There is a fundamental
difference. Which is more dangerous, do you think?

>In addition, good actors have vital imaginations, such
> that what they cannot or have not experienced, they can nonetheless
> imagine in their performances.

That's the key, isn't it? We spend a great deal of time, energy, and
effort on the use of imagination in my acting classes. Without it, an
actor is dead in the water. If you really want to see an actor making
the most of it, I highly recommend observing John Mills in the film
_Ryan's Daughter_ ... one of the most marvelously imaginative and fully
developed performances I've ever seen anywhere. Talk about going beyond
one's physical limits!

> From Don Bloom:If an actor normally has certain mannerisms that we
> associate with homosexuality, he should be actor enough to suppress them
> on stage -- unless he wants the character to be associated with
> homosexuality. In that case he would keep them, or, if the actor were
> not gay, adopt them
>
> For example, a non-gay actor would certainly want to play Marlowe's
> Edward II as gay, since that is one of the defining qualities of the
> character, and unless he was very touchy about his reputation, he
> wouldn't want to turn down such an excellent part. Similarly,
> Restoration fops must be played as very effeminate and mincing,
> associated with certain types of homosexuals. But you would not have to
> be gay to do so. The essence of acting is putting aside yourself and
> finding some one else -- young, old, strong, weak, male, female,
> straight, gay, courageous, cowardly, good, evil.

I agree with everything you say with one exception. It is a mistake to
portray a fop as "effeminate and mincing." The fop is certainly fussy
and meticulous, but that is quite a different thing. Fops are not
homosexuals; in fact, they are often promiscuously heterosexual. Most
restoration comedy is handled poorly by modern actors (and has been for
decades) -- even British actors. This is perhaps the most difficult kind
of theatre to pull off (wasn't there a recent production of _Beaux'
Stratagem_ that was blasted by the press?). Leslie Howard did a credible
job on film of creating a foppish Scarlet Pimpernel; there was nothing
effeminate or mincing about it.  In fact it was quite (dare I use this
word) masculine. Of course, the actor who tackles this role may have
whatever sexual preference he wants. The character, however, should not
(as you rightly say) be "gay."

I should point out also that I remember being in a production, in the
1970s, of _Edward II_ in which the leading actor was NOT gay; he was
still able to play the part convincingly (Galveston wasn't gay either,
though the actor was somewhat weaker). It seems that the shoe can go on
the other foot as well.

Keeping my feet free of doo doo (I hope),

Paul E. Doniger
The Gilbert School

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Sep 2000 18:41:00 GMT
Subject: 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1791 Re: The Power of Words

By the way, Sher's Tamburlaine was quite bad.

And this is supposed to be criticism????!  I saw the production, and
whatever might be said of the performance, a summary dismissal as 'quite
bad' is mind-bogglingly inadequate.

But the main point, surely, is that whilst an actor's physique, stature,
vocal range and the rest are visible and recognisable to a member of the
audience, and therefore part of the information we process as we watch.
Comment is therefore rational. To discuss an actor's sexual orientation
is to bring knowledge from outside the theatre to bear, and to refuse
the basic premise that an actor is acting and it's their acting to which
we respond.  That Charles Weinstein appears to be unable to make this
basic, simple distinction is why I, at least, find his comments
offensive  (as distinct from finding the homophobia that his comments
imply contemptible - which I also do).

David Lindley
 

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