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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Actors v Scholars
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1054  Tuesday, 3 June 2003

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Jun 2003 10:08:59 -0400
        Subj:   Actors vs. Scholars

[2]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Jun 2003 08:40:16 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Jun 2003 11:42:32 -0400
        Subj:   Actors vs. Scholars

[4]     From:   Deborah Selden <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Jun 2003 11:21:27 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

[5]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Jun 2003 15:56:46 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1048 Re: Actors v Scholars

[6]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Jun 2003 14:56:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

[7]     From:   Janet Costa <
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        Date:   Monday, 2 Jun 2003 15:15:01 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Jun 2003 10:08:59 -0400
Subject:        Actors vs. Scholars

Whitt Brantley writes:

"John Gielgud and Lawrence Olivier will serve nicely...one thought with
his head, the other with his heart."

I won't challenge this generalization, though I bet others will. But it
seems to me that the best scholars and actors try to integrate their
feelings and their thoughts when interpreting a play or a character.

If your thoughts and your feelings go off in opposite directions, then
this is a sign that either (1) you need to reread the text or (2) the
author wants your emotions and thoughts to clash.

A classic example of (2) is, of course, our reaction to Falstaff's
rejection at the end of _Henry IV, Part 2_.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Jun 2003 08:40:16 -0700
Subject: 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

Edmund Taft writes:

>Are there techniques for playing someone super-smart? I understand
>playing a character who is dumber than the actor, but one who is
>smarter? How is it done?

There are few golden rules in acting and certainly none that any of the
practitioners want to agree upon, but, I have always found it useful, as
a director, to suggest to an actor that they never make the character
dumber than they are! The corollary would also be true and, indeed, by
inference impossible!

An actor's job is to give emotional range to the intellect of a
character.  There is no 'intelligence' attached to emotion. Much as one
cannot grab from the air an ounce of love, one cannot attach an
arbitrary IQ digit to the 'smartness' of greed. Indeed the greatness of
Shakespeare's characters lies in the vast range of 'dumb' and 'smart'
actions each of them manifests.  Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Macbeth, do we
not, at times, desperately want to cry up to them "what on earth were
you thinking?" And, is that not the point?  Likewise with Oppenheimer
and Teller. Dramas of their lives, I hazard a guess, do not go into
great detail as to the inner working of their cerebral cortex and how
their synapses possibly derived a series of enigmatic squiggles to
elucidate the finer details of micro-physics. They go into the drama of
their lives. And drama is full of 'opposites.'

Antithesis, John Barton's favorite word, is the secret to unlocking the
mysteries of character. Our souls are governed by agonizing opposites.
The challenge for the actor is to make those opposites as large as
possible; to 'heighten' the reality.

On the page, Teller, Oppenheimer and Hamlet are neither smart nor dumb.
They are merely templates upon which the actor, and here it comes, to
the best of their ability, must use to help shape their version of that
character. And there's the secret, 'their' version. You cannot play
someone else's Hamlet; you can only play your own. Your Hamlet can only
be as smart or as dumb as you are. I recall hearing of another
Barton-ism. When asked by an actor what he could possibly do with Hamlet
that has not already been done in the last 350 years, Barton replied,
"remember that Hamlet has never said these words before."

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Jun 2003 11:42:32 -0400
Subject:        Actors vs. Scholars

I'm a bit perplexed by the answers of Ted Dykstera, Martin Steward, and
L. Swilley. If I imagine myself as a genius, will that make me one? Will
it make me even appear like one?

I don't think so.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Deborah Selden <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Jun 2003 11:21:27 -0500
Subject: 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

Or, we could just ask Professor Peter Saccio . . . a superb academic and
actor.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Jun 2003 15:56:46 -0400
Subject: 14.1048 Re: Actors v Scholars
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1048 Re: Actors v Scholars

Actors are often in some sense playing characters more intelligent than
they--that is, who make immediate, highly articulate, grammatically
flawless responses to other characters' speeches and actions, avoiding
the hesitations and confusions and incoherencies and false starts and
mangled grammar and impoverished diction to be found in the ordinary
speech of even professors of English.  In any case, how does the
speaking of an exceptionally intelligent man (whatever that means)
differ from that of a man of above-average intelligence (a label that
fits most of the professional stage actors I know [some dozens] and for
all I know most film actors as well), except in ways that in the drama
are determined by playwrights, not performers?

Intelligently?

David Evett

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Jun 2003 14:56:47 -0500
Subject: 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

 Edmund Taft writes:

>. . . [W]hat I don't understand is: How can an actor play the
>part of a character who is MORE intelligent than the actor him- or
>herself?  Actors do it: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and Hamlet
>have all been played by actors who, while intelligent, probably were not
>as intelligent as the characters they portrayed.
>
>Are there techniques for playing someone super-smart? I understand
>playing a character who is dumber than the actor, but one who is
>smarter? How is it done?

Piece of cake. You think about the most intelligent people you've ever
met, or otherwise encountered, and you build a character based on them.
Aside from knowing more than the rest of us, "super-smart" people are
indistinguishable. The writer has to supply the lines (etc.) to make
this superior person superior. The actor does not and cannot. If I may
wax aphoristic, the author supplies the mind, the actor supplies the
soul.

Cheers,
don

PS: If anyone knows where I can get some wax for my aphoristic please
let me know. I tried e-bay to no avail.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janet Costa <
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Date:           Monday, 2 Jun 2003 15:15:01 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1026 Re: Actors v Scholars

From: Edmund Taft "But what I don't understand is: How can an actor play
the part of a character who is MORE intelligent than the actor him- or
herself?"

As a practitioner and an academic, I can only offer this:

Characters have a way of secreting their intelligence, so I have never
had the opportunity to check their intelligence. While I have often
questioned the intelligence of my students, I have yet to question the
intelligence of my actors. Their sanity for picking so mercurial an
occupation, yes. IQ? nope, not a one...

Janet

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