Acting Paradoxes

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Another bit of philosophical discussion with a great actor, penned here for your thoughts.

Acting seems to be the most nebulous of the arts. The best acting we see looks effortless. The technique behind it is invisible to the viewer. No other art form has its entire technical faculty rendered completely invisible. The pianist can’t hide the keys. The ballerina can’t hide the carefully choreographed series of movement. You can make them look easy with training and practice, but you can’t make them invisible.

Actors therefore have to be the most selfless of all artists. Actors have to be egoless enough to “not show” their technique off. An enormously complex process of creating an individual life of a character has been initiated from the first reading of the script. By the end of rehearsals and preparation, there simply IS another life on the stage or in front of the camera.

(From the outside there seems little effort or preparation and so some actors, who are not actors but audience members hoping to cross to the other side, believe there is no process, no technique, and  try to make their incision in artistic space with an ax.)

The goal is the creation not of a dance, or a piece of music, but a life. And when we see that life, we as an audience are told the story of that life according to whatever style of theatre or film we are watching it within. We as audience members react with an individual response that the actor, the director and the producer can try to control and manipulate, but never truly can. That attempt at manipulation is largely pointless.

The actor therefore needs a technique of creating character, of building that life. And it’s the individual technique of the actor that marks the creation of that work of art with the artist’s stamp. And yet we don’t watch the artist, but the character. The actor has to remove that temptation, that so-human, ego fueled desire to “show” the audience their oh-so-skillful process. The process of creating a life that isn’t yours is also a process of being brave enough and selfless enough to let go of those elements of self that you know have nothing to do with the character; and then building the elements of character from scratch and letting them inhabit your entire facility, body, voice, thought, and feeling.

And so the paradox stands that the great actor has a technique, built by their training, their relationship with great teaching, their raw talent and their personal courage, that rides on the wings of the liberation that comes from never needing validation for their efforts; efforts that are invisible to their audience.

And the greatest irony of all? Once the actor loses his need to be validated? Validation arrives aplenty.