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TitleActors on Acting
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size42.3 MB
Total Pages740
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Page 1

_ ....
"Probably the most important book for students and lovers of drama
since Stanislavsky's My Life in Art...this beautifully organized and
indexed volume is of inestimable value."—Theatre Arts Magazine

-Edited. Iby TOBY COLE and

TLeTl.eones

Teclinioiies, and

Practices oftLe

\Vdrlcl s Great Actors,

ToM in Tlkeir

Own Word

Page 2

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2016 with funding from

Kahle/Austin Foundation

https://archive.org/details/actorsonactingthOOcole_0

Page 370

ACTORS ON ACTING
actor who produced his effects not by the grotesqueness or drollery of his physique,
but by the close observation and happy reproduction of characteristics—i.e., not by
appealing physically to our mirthful sensibilities, but indirectly through our intel-
lectual recognition of the incongruous.

« * • *

[Truthful Representation or Simulation]

... In how far does the actor feel the emotion he expresses? When we hear of
Macready and [John] Liston lashing themselves into a fury behind the scenes in
order to come on the stage sufficiendy excited to give a truthful representation of
the agitations of anger, the natural inference is that these artists recognized the
truth of the popular notion which assumes that the actor really feels what he ex-
presses. But this inference seems contradicted by experience. Not only is it noto-
rious that the actor is feigning, and that if he really felt what he feigns he would
^

withstand the wear and tear of such emotion repeated night after
night, but it is indisputable, to those who know anything of art, that the mere
presence of genuine emotion would be such a disturbance of the intellectual equilib-
rium as entirely to frustrate artistic expression. Talma told M. Barriere that he was
once carried away by the truth and beauty of the actress playing with him till
she recalled him by a whisper: “Take care. Talma, you are moved!” on which he
remarked. It is really from emotion that difficulties spring: the voice balks, the
memory fails, and gestures become false; and the effect is destroyed”; and there
IS an observation of Mole to a similar effect: “I was not satisfied with myself to-
night; I allowed myself to be carried away and did not remain master of myself.
I felt the situation too strongly. I was the character himself, no longer the actor
who played the part. I had become as real as if I were in my own home. To
achieve the scenic illusion one must be otherwise.**

Everyone initiated into the secrets of the art of acting will seize at once the
meaning of this luminous phrase, scenic illusion; and the uninitiated will under-
stand how entirely opposed to all the purposes of the art and all the secrets of effect
would be representation of passion in its real rather than in its symbolical expres-
sion, the red, swollen, and distorted features of grief, the harsh and screaming in-

unsuited to art; the paralysis of all outward expression, and
the flurry and agitation of ungraceful gesticulation which belong to certain power-
ul emotions, may be described by the poet, but cannot be admitted into plastic art.
The poet may tell us what is signified by the withdrawal of all life and movement
from the face and limbs, describing the internal agitations or the deadly calm which
disturb or paralyze the sufferer; but the painter, sculptor, or actor must tell us
w at the sufferer undergoes, and tell it through the symbols of outward expression

the internal workings must be legible in the external symbols; and these external
symbols must also have a certain grace and proportion to affect us esthetically.

All art is symbolical. If it presented emotion in its real expression it would
cease to move us as art; sometimes cease to move us at all, or move us only to
laughter. There is a departure from reality in all the stage accessories. The situa-
tion, the character, the language, all are at variance with daily experience. Emotion
does not utter itself in verse nor in carefully chosen sentences. . . .

The reader sees at once that as a matter of fact the emotions represented by

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ENGLAND AND IRELAND
the actor are not agitating him as they would agitate him in reality; he is feigning
and we know that he is feigning; he is representing a fiction which is to move us as
a fiction, and not to lacerate our sympathies as they would be lacerated by the

agony of a fellow-creature actually suffering in our presence. The tears we shed are
tears welling from a sympathetic source; but their salt bitterness is removed, and

their pain is pleasurable.

But now arises the antinomy, as Kant would call it—the contradiction which
perplexes the judgment. If the actor lose all power over his art under the disturb-

ing influence of emotion, he also loses all power over his art in proportion to his

deadness to emotion. If he really feel, he cannot act; but he cannot act unless he

feel. All the absurd efforts of mouthing and grimacing actors to produce an effect,

all the wearisomeness of cold conventional representation—mimicry without life



we know to be owing to the unimpassioned talent of the actor. Observe, I do not
say to his unimpressed nature. It is quite possible for a man of exquisite sen-
sibility to be ludicrously tame in his acting, if he has not the requisite talent

of expression, or has not yet learned how to modulate it so as to give it due
effect. . . . But although it is quite possible for an actor to have sensibility without

the talent of expression, and therefore to be a tame actor though an impassioned

man, it is wholly impossible for him to express what he has never felt, to be an

impassioned actor with a cold nature.

And here is the point of intersection of the two lines of argument just fol-
lowed out. The condition being that a man must feel emotion if he is to express
it, for if he does not feel it he will not know how to express it, how can this

be reconciled with the impossibility of his affecting us esthetically while he is

disturbed by emotion? In other words: how far does he really feel the passion

he expressed? It is a question of degree. As in all art, feeling lies at the root,

but the foliage and flowers though deriving their sap from emotion, derive their

form and structure from the intellect. The poet cannot write while his eyes are

full of tears, while his nerves are trembling from the mental shock, and his

hurrying thoughts are too agitated to setde into definite tracks. But he must

have felt, or his verse will be a mere echo. It is from the memory of past

feelings that he draws the beautiful image with which he delights us. He is
tremulous again under the remembered agitation, but it is a pleasant tremor,

and in no way disturbs the clearness of his intellect. He is a spectator of his
own tumult; and though moved by it, can yet so master it as to select from

it only these elements which suit his purpose. We are all spectators of our-
selves; but it is the peculiarity of the artistic nature to indulge in such intro-

spection even in moments of all but the most disturbing passion, and to draw

thence materials for art. This is true also of the fine actor, and many of my
readers will recognize the truth of what Talma said of himself: I have suf-

fered cruel losses, and have often been assailed with profound sorrows; but after

the first moment when grief vents itself in cries and tears, I have found my-

self involuntarily turning my gaze inwards, and found that the actor was un-

consciously studying the man, and catching nature in the act.” It is only by

thus familiarizing oneself with the nature of the various emotions, that one

can properly interpret them. But even that is not enough. They must be

watched in others, the interpreting key being given in our own consciousness.

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“An in(dispensable work for all those concerneci with the

(delicate histrionic art. It inclu(des just about everybocdy

worth hearing from on this subject.”

—Robert Brustein

Since its original publication, Actors on Acting has been acknowl-

edged as the most comprehensive and authoritative volume in the

field. In this collection of essays, grouped by country and acting

tradition, Toby Cole and Helen Chinoy bring together the experi-

ence of all the great practitioners of the theatre.

In this rich and varied resource on developing acting technique,

more than 1 30 actors from ancient Greece to the twentieth century

share their theories. With introductory essays providing the history

of the theatre, biographies of great performers, and a 1,000-title

bibliography. Actors on Acting is certain to be the most important

volume in any actor’s—or anyone else’s—collection of theatrical
works.

Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy are eminently known for

their activity in the professional and educational theatre, as well as

for their books and articles in the field.

Cover design by Tom McKeveny

Cover photograph of Laurence Olivier

courtesy The Bettmann Archive ISBN

90000)

Three Rivers Press
New York
http://www.randomhoLise.com 9

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