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In response to Mr. Feingold's article, we would like to discuss (in terms of acting) why some of these things are happening. He hits the nail very much on the head when it comes to the diminishing effect that the theatre seems to have on audiences. I find that I feel very similarly after seeing much of what NYC theatre has to offer. That said, tricks like "Cheating-Out" and "Counter-Crossing" have always fallen short of the mark in terms of connection. I recall a moment, working with my first acting teacher, Francis Gercke, where he very keenly observed: "Just because you are looking someone in the eyes, it does not mean you are connecting."
We at The Seeing Place make a habit of seeing a lot of the theater in NYC - from Broadway to Off-Off Broadway. What seems to be frequently missing is the art of storytelling. Most actors, when asked, literally don't know what story they are telling. Usually, that job is pawned off on the Director. But no amount of powerful lines, pretty staging, or raw emotion can create a story on its own. The Actor has to be aware of what he or she is trying to communicate, behaviorally. The Director can lead all the best horses to the water, but they still have to drink for themselves.
As far as the art of staging goes, it certainly is an art. But the main issue with acting right now seems to be a lack of craft. We have been taught to believe that we go to study in a BFA program - and maybe even continue on to get an MFA - and POOF! We're ready for the marketplace! Right? Perhaps. It's a good start, anyway. But very few programs stress the importance of professional training, beyond college. As Sandy Meisner famously said, "It takes 20 years to become an actor."
I notice a lack of training, mostly, when actors are unable to be understood while emotions are riding high - either onstage or even in film. Our voices naturally strain when big things are happening. But the actor needs to be understood and expressive at the same time. This is not something that is needed in reality - as my current teacher, David Gideon, constantly points out. In fact, it is absolutely unnatural for people to relax and open up in times of great experience - be it tragic or joyful. And yet it is the actor's job to open up and share at those very moments. That is a skill that takes a great amount of time and effort to master - if anyone ever fully does. I am constantly working in this direction. It's really hard.
As far as the aesthetics of American theatre are concerned, there is a trend toward hyper-realism - as Mr. Feingold points out. And that's fine. As Shakespeare pointed out:
"The purpose of playing, whose end both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."However, that doesn't mean that we have to discard necessary customs in storytelling in order to behave with reality. More and more, it seems like actors have lost the sense of Play onstage in the name of Reality. In fact, it seems that our understanding of acting, altogether, has reverted back to what it was before Stanislavski began to teach. So frequently, actors seem to hide behind the "fourth wall", rather than developing an understanding of how to be publicly private.
For me and for The Seeing Place, the beauty of the theatre has always been that both actors and audience can collect in a room and live through a situation. In order to do that, we all need to suspend our disbelief together. But the actors do need to live onstage. Otherwise, we would be better served to hold a sociology conference. There is the opportunity in the theatre for social issues to be examined hands-on. That said, we can't ever forget that we are storytellers. What actors do is very special. It is not the same experience to read a play at home.
In conclusion, we agree with Mr. Feingold's increasingly relevant frustration with The State of Theatre in America. And the ensemble of The Seeing Place is in our fourth year of fighting back against the marginalization of the theatre. We specifically set out to put life back on the stage and spend significant rehearsal time pinpointing the stories we share on a nightly basis with our audiences. Our first slogan, was "Because if you wanted a Sitcom, you'd just turn on the Tube." That's not to devalue television, but to put it in it's place. Television is a writer's medium. Film is a medium for editors and directors. The theatre is an actor's medium. It traffics in behavior. It is where we go to see ourselves. That's why we chose to call our company The Seeing Place.
What do you have to say about all of this? Please leave a comment, so we can share in one another's knowledge. Building a community is of the utmost importance to us.