Thursday, March 15, 2012

Having Something To Say as an Actor

We live in a world that is saturated by a need for escapism.  The ideal human community consists of 22 people.  Especially in a city like New York, we're more than a little overextended.  When we take time out of our lives to appreciate art, were more likely to veer toward entertainment than enrichment.  Once upon a time, they used to be one in the same thing.  If you think about Shakespeare's fools, they were always teaching a lesson.  That was a basic premise under the heading of entertainment until the 20th century.  Nowadays, most actors are more than satisfied to have their audience marvel at their talents, rather than receive their (and the playwright's) ideas about our world.

We had a talkback for For Profit last night.  It was most inspiring.  At one point, the panelists thanked Aaron for bringing a voice to the student loan crisis, for humanizing the issues involved, and for telling his story in a way that is accessible and entertaining.  Harold Clurman used to say, "Make them laugh and while their mouths are open, pour truth in."  That should be the aim of every storyteller.  That's why stories are effective.  They illustrate something in a way that is easy to relate to.  Without anything to relate, what are we doing?

I'm not suggesting that every actor needs to be an activist (as is true of Aaron Calafato).  The Seeing Place is also currently producing Three Sisters, which is a play that discusses the existential repercussions of our lives and questions the things we put above family in this world. Anton Chekhov also poses questions about how we treat our elderly citizens and lower classes. To that, he explores the bonds between siblings, spouses, an children - and what happens when those relationships deteriorate. Finally, he focuses much of his story around how we all deal with death, stress, failure, and what happens when relationships break down. These are characters straight out of our lives: dreamers, philosophers, workaholics, alcoholics, gamblers, adulterers, compulsive over-eaters, you name it.

A story doesn't even have to raise big ideas.  In The Princess Diaries, we get a glimpse into young womanhood.  I know I know very little on the topic, but that is every bit as important a political statement.  A story is a shared experience.  It seems too easy to get away from that in the modern age.

It is our job to share the truth.  In Latin, the work "actor" means "purveyor of truth".  We are the "brief chronicles of the time".  Though it's tempting, none of us can afford to stop at an appreciative audience.  Much as applause may be nice, it's superficial at best.  It's too easy to get caught up in the head of "Do they like me?"  But in no other forum does the artist feel a need for constant reaffirmation.  The painter does not concern himself with the viewers response until the painting is finished.  We cannot afford to pander to our audiences as we are performing, either.  We have an opportunity to give voice to every aspect of the human struggle.  And the theatre has a responsibility to the people that aren't able to make their voices heard. 

Every good public speaker places their attention on what it is they are trying to communicate, rather than connecting to make sure their points land.  That is something we all need to develop as well.  Otherwise, all we can hope for is a refined and well-dressed waste of time.  It saddens me to no end to go to a play and see actor after actor full of sound and fury, trying to impress the audience, as though a career is the only thing that matters.  It's like a five year old, constantly saying "look at me".  And though that is an important aspect of the theatre, it has to go beyond that.  Otherwise, we are really engaged in a popularity contest in which every actor battles to upstage the play.  The literal translation of "theatre" is "the place we go to see ourselves."  The Seeing Place.  And that's what we're committed to do. 

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I love this. I think one of the best ways I've found with regard to having a voice in the theater is to keep reading & seeing plays, and find the stories that I'm passionate about telling. It doesn't always have to make sense - for some reason, I've been drawn to the play CLOSER ever since seeing the movie, and I've been compelled to do it. For some reason, it was important for me to live through those circumstances, and getting the show produced was an incredibly satisfying artistic experience. I think the audience could see and appreciate that we were a group of artists interested in telling a story our way rather than them trying to impress them. Heck, if we were trying to impress people, we would have chosen a play that was more positively received - CLOSER has inspired all kinds of rancor because the characters are widely seen as terrible people. But the story I wanted to tell was that these characters are just like you and me - they're good people who do questionable things when they feel backed in a corner.

    I'd be curious to hear what other people think about this topic...


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