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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0519  Friday, 22 February 2002

[1]     From:   Judith Buchanan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 15:02:48 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0484 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[2]     From:   Alan J. Sanders <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 12:32:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[3]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 11:22:57 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[4]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 20:44:56 -0500
        Subj:   Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[5]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 05:00:18 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Buchanan <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 15:02:48 -0000
Subject: 13.0484 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0484 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

The following book might be of interest to participants in this thread,
since it includes interviews with American and English actors and
discussion with each of them about actor training approaches and
approaches to classical and modern styles of acting.   Callow and Sher
are two of the interviewees.

Mary Luckhurst and Chloe Veltman, eds., 'On Acting'  (Faber, 2001).

Best,
Judith Buchanan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan J. Sanders <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 12:32:58 -0500
Subject: 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

This discussion made me want to thrown in my two-cents worth.  I agree
with John in his comment that at the very worst, modern filmings of
Shakespeare are STILL Shakespeare!  And for that, I am much encouraged.
However, sometimes our ideals (and sometimes the strengths of conviction
that Shakespeare can do no wrong) make it difficult to give
experimentation it's due accord.  Romeo and Juliet may be the single
most produced of all of Shakespeare's plays, especially taking into
account every middle or high school in the United States alone, so how
does one challenge the audience to see something fresh in it's
performance.  Unfortunately, as Brandon states, actors are more often
used as puppets (hooks to fetch the highest audience, especially in
teens) rather than casting true performers on the merits of their
skill.  Still, Baz Luhurman managed to take a classic work of literature
and fill it with color and action and spectacle.  Does this take away
from the show.  In some moments, I think so.  In others, I was drawn to
the cinematic work that can never be duplicated on stage.

So, I suppose, in my ramblings, the point I am trying to convey deals
more with the creative imagery of film v. the effective talent of
performers on stage.  Though DiCaprio wasn't anything astounding to
watch (and as far as I am concerned, his role in "Gilbert Grape" has
been the pinnacle of his career), the environment in which he performed
was a feast for the eyes.  The locales, the cinematography, the sound,
the costumes, all of these things were mind-blowing to me.  (Ironically,
I had just wrapped up a 3 week run of R&J so I had most of the lines
memorized when I saw this film.)  But, there is a purist sense in me as
well that says all of the glitz is just that -- glitz.  Something to
help pull away your attention from the story.  And, from that
perspective, the movie is weaker than most amatuer stage productions
(with the notable exception of Pete Postelwaite, as John also states).
I just hope we are in a period of flux where we can move to a point
where the acting talent is not only paramount in the casting, but also
the cornerstone of any Shakespeare film, while affording the visually
stimulated audience members a chance to focus on a setting that brings
the story to new and more profound heights than ever before.

Alan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 11:22:57 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

I found a few more examples of how acting changed with Marlon Brando.
All are cited from an acting course description in the UCLA extension
catalogue:

"When the curtain came down...on Dec. 3, 1947...our expectations of what
an actor should offer us in the way of psychological truth and
behavioral honesty were forever changed."

-Richard Shickel on Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire", excerpted from
www.time.com

"[Marlon Brando] gave us our freedom." - Jack Nicholson

"He loves the light! See how the light shines through him?...I shouldn't
be partial, but he is my favorite one." -Tennessee Williams

Brian Willis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 20:44:56 -0500
Subject:        Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

To Mr. Toropov:  "Happy to be alive" is precisely what I used to feel
when watching English Shakespeare.  The gradual loss of that experience
has been depressing and embittering.  I certainly can't recapture it by
watching Mark Rylance creeping like a frightened church-mouse from one
corner of the stage to another.  Granted, this is more convincing when
he calls himself Hamlet than when he masquerades as Henry V; but it is
hardly life-affirming in either context.

To Mr. Lawrence:   I'm sure that your students respond more readily to
the Backstreet Boys than to Mozart; and what of it?  The idea that
schoolchildren should not have to work in order to understand and
appreciate great classical acting sounds odd coming from a teacher.  Why
must Shakespearean performance speak immediately to all and sundry
without any intellectual or aesthetic effort on their part?  A Gielgud
performance has emotional riches that will not yield themselves
instanter to the dismissive sensibilities of today's average teenager.
Certain performances by Olivier have an almost literary complexity, with
subtleties and insights that require patience, developing maturity and
repeated viewings to discover (I speak from experience).  Are these
performances couched in an idiom that strikes a modern high-school
student as quaint or old-fashioned?  Of course; but so is Shakespeare.
So is the output of virtually any artist who lived more than fifty years
ago.

To all:  No one likes the thought of living in an age of decline, and
there is an understandable (and reflexive) tendency to deny it.  Yet
such ages have demonstrably existed:  periods of decadence, torpor or
mediocrity whose artistic production was markedly inferior to that of
earlier generations.  We are living in such a drossy epoch at present so
far as classical acting is concerned.   Even those who deny this might
have trouble denying a similar proposition regarding current levels of
education and cultural literacy--something that has no small bearing on
my topic.

--Charles Weinstein

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 05:00:18 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0511 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

> Re: changing acting styles, as noted by others on
> this thread

And yet another note...

Recently Amazon.co.uk popped up with the 1960 George Schaefer TV version
of "The Tempest" on my "Recommendations" list.  I could very vaguely
recall having seen this on television, in black-and-white, sometime in
my very early childhood (if I saw it in 1960 I would have been three).
Out of curiosity, and because the tape was dead cheap, I decided to
order it and have another look.

This is, by the way, the one with Maurice Evans as Prospero, Lee Remick
as Miranda, Roddy MacDowell as Ariel, and Richard Burton as Caliban.

It has been colorized, apparently by someone taking mind-altering drugs
on the job.

And it is gloriously, spectacularly AWFUL in just about every way one
could think of in which a production can be awful.  Much of this is the
fault of the adaptors, who hacked the text nearly beyond recognition.
The makeup and costumes are pure panto -- nearly everyone has fake noses
(Burton's is a squashed-cauliflower affair that hints unpleasantly at
African characteristics).  Ferdinand (William Bassett) is inexplicably
costumed in a very revealing gold lame gladiator outfit which makes him
look like a refugee from a gay porn movie.

Evans was, as I recall, considered a fair-to-good Shakespearean actor,
perhaps closer to the "classical" style under discussion than to current
trends.  He was occasionally allowed to quote Shakespeare (quite well,
in fact!) in his bit-part role as Samantha's warlock father on the old
*Bewitched* series.  In this "Tempest", he was just...embarrassing.
Hammy, poorly inflected, un-thought-out articulation.  Hackneyed,
awkward movements.  I could go on and on, but won't.  Burton's Caliban
wasn't horrible...he was one of the few actors who seemed comfortable in
the physical aspects of the role.  MacDowell's Ariel was, I thought,
surprisingly good (and the costuming and makeup were decent and in line
with the character, especially one scene in which he appeared as a
winged, seraphim-like apparition).

Apparently the point of this production was to do a version that would
charm children and lower-secondary age kids into a life-long love affair
with Shakespeare.  I don't know.

I offer all this simply as yet another example of how acting, and acting
of Shakespeare, and productions of Shakespeare, could be just plain
terrible EVEN in the years closer in time to the lost and lamented age
of "classical acting."

One final note.  I wish I could remember where I read this...I think in
a review of a recent Gielgud biography, perhaps in TLS, perhaps
somewhere else.  At any rate, it said that Gielgud sometimes expressed
annoyance at Olivier because he felt that the latter actor was too
naturalistic, and uncritically accepting of "contemporary"
(post-classical?) acting styles, and that his (Olivier's) work
diminished the dignity of Shakespeare.  I wonder what he would think
about being perpetually grouped with Olivier whenever people start
talking about Great, Dead, White Classical Actors.

Cheers,
Karen (who wishes she had the five quid back that she spent on the
Schaefer "Tempest"!)

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