The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0003  Tuesday, 2 January 2001

From:           Paul E. Doniger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 29 Dec 2000 19:04:47 -0800
Subject:        Re: Acting

I'd like to echo and expand on some of  Mike Jensen's suggestion "that
we raise the level of discourse" regarding acting (Shakespearean or

Among Mike's comments were the following:

> I suggested that writing something like
> > She either miscasts (Alan Cumming), chooses classically-inexperienced
> > players who can barely speak, let alone fill, their roles (Jessica
> > Harry Lennix), or leaves capable performers to their own stale devices
> > (Anthony Hopkins with his familiar repertoire of murmurs, shouts and
> was basically name calling.  To say that someone is lousy or miscast
> does not give list members anything to address.  We can say, "I thought
> the actors were good," but that is as meaningless as the comments quoted
> above.

I emphatically agree. It is very easy for us to generalize that an actor
is good or bad in a role or a given performance, but it is extremely
difficult to specify what we mean in any way that people can easily
agree upon. Mike also states that:

> Acting is not like a costume or a set. ... Acting breaks down into parts like
> characterization, speaking the lines with conviction, and how actors
> play a scene together.  A performance can change from scene to scene, or
> even moment to moment.

 There are even many more areas into which acting breaks down, such as
dramatic action (i.e., the 'through line' of a performance from the
first moment to the last), rhythm, awareness of the medium (proscenium
stage, arena stage, TV, film), and so on. Perhaps, for us, the most
important might be the actor's or actress's awareness of the mind of the
playwright (e.g., Shakespeare's mind). This last 'part' into which
acting breaks down is admirably, though briefly, mentioned in
Boleslavsky's fine book, _Acting: The First Six Lessons_ (NY: Theatre
Arts Books).

Unless we understand these things and have the vocabulary, the time, and
the willingness to discuss them, I would suggest, along with Mike, that
we avoid being too hasty in our praises and condemnations. I, for one,
have some agreements and disagreements with, for example, the
characterizing of Jessica Lang's performance in _Titus_ as bad or
"inexperienced." She is an eminently experienced and, I believe, fine
actress. Did she have weaknesses as Tamora? Certainly, but who doesn't?
The role is not one of Shakespeare's most rounded women, but Ms. Lang
did manage to bring a great deal of sympathy for the character in the
opening scenes (no doubt due to her years of experience working with the
camera -- much as she did in adding grace and depth to that awful film
about Rob Roy ... but, of course, that is only my opinion!).

I also agree with Mike that:

>It would be helpful when discussing a performance to say enough
>so we can all discuss the same thing.  How did
> Hopkins "repertoire of murmurs, shouts and snarls" help or hurt a
> PARTICULAR scene?  How did that undermine the film at THAT point?  Then
> anyone interested on our list can review that scene to see if we agree,
> or if we want to make the case for Hopkins effectiveness is that scene.

It seems to me that if we are to discuss something so elusive as acting,
or worse, discuss a single performance, we must get as specific and
detailed as possible. The work that an actor does, often in the privacy
of his or her own mind and heart, is difficult for the audience to
infer. All we have is our reactions to the "final product."

Paul E. Doniger

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