What is Acting? And how does answering this question help teachers?
Opening Joke <ul><li>Sir Laurence Olivier played the villain in the thriller Marathon Man and was teamed up with Dustin Ho...
Marathon Man
My Argument <ul><li>“ Acting” is a contested term – there is no agreement as to what it involves, what skills are required...
Dion Boucicault (1820-1890) <ul><li>You must absolutely have principles in all arts.  You cannot produce your own thoughts...
Point One <ul><li>There are many definitions of acting, some of which are deeply contradictory, mutually exclusive and som...
William Archer (1888) <ul><li>Acting is of all the arts the most purely imitative. In this respect it stands at the opposi...
William Archer’s (1888) Model of the Arts
Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute (1998) <ul><li>Acting is generally agreed to be a matter of less mimicry, exhibitionism, o...
Acting: Imitative or Not? <ul><li>William Archer </li></ul><ul><li>Acting is imitation: </li></ul><ul><li>Lee Strasberg Th...
Denis Diderot (1883) <ul><li>In order to move the audience the actor must remain unmoved. </li></ul>
Constantin Stanislavski (1936) <ul><li>You must live [the part] by actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it...
Acting: Feeling or Not? <ul><li>Denis Diderot </li></ul><ul><li>Actor must remain unmoved: </li></ul><ul><li>Constantin St...
More Definitions… <ul><li>   </li></ul><ul><li>Acting is acting. It's all basically a series of problems you try to solve…...
George Henry Lewes (1875) <ul><li>I have heard those for whose opinions in other directions my respect is great, utter jud...
Point Two <ul><li>Your definition of acting will (or  should ) affect your approach toward teaching people how to act – it...
Specific Training Activities Values in Pedagogy Definition of Acting
Lecoq and Strasberg – Incompatible Definitions, Incompatible Pedagogies <ul><li>Jacques Lecoq </li></ul><ul><li>Lee Strasb...
<ul><li>International Theatre School Jacques Lecoq </li></ul><ul><li>The International Theatre School Jacques Lecoq teache...
Point Three <ul><li>Aesthetic philosophy can help us come up with a more robust characterization of what acting actually  ...
Nelson Goodman (1906-1998)
Goodman’s Philosophy of Art <ul><li>Things aren’t “art” or “not art”, but instead “function as art” at particular times an...
A Goodmanian View of Acting <ul><li>Break acting down into its constituent “symbolic languages”: speech, movement, facial ...
A note on feeling emotions <ul><li>If the actor could fake all the physiological signals of an emotion without actually fe...
The Emotion Pill – a thought experiment <ul><li>If you could take this pill… </li></ul><ul><li>and get this reaction: </li...
A note on “true signals” <ul><li>But perhaps there are physiological signs of emotion that  cannot be produced  at will, w...
Strassberg on “true signals” <ul><li>He walked over to her as he was talking to her, put his hand on her hair, and started...
Were these “true signals”? <ul><li>Perhaps, but perhaps not: there are well-known and well-used ways to artificially diste...
Signals: True or False? <ul><li>Bladerunner </li></ul><ul><li>Voight-Kampff test used to determine if subject is “replican...
So, “What is Acting?” <ul><li>I submit that acting is the process of communicating in multiple symbolic languages at once ...
Citations <ul><li>Archer, W. (1888).  Masks or Faces? A Study in the Psychology of Acting . London: Longmans, Green, and C...
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What Is Acting? Paper presented at NYU Theatre Pedagogy conference 2009

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What is Acting? This is a question that many have tackled, but few have answered convincingly. It is also a question crucial for teachers of acting: if you don't know what you're teaching, how can you teach it?

This presentation, presented at New York University in April 2009, explores how different definitions of acting have led to different theatre training techniques, and tries to show a way forward using the philosophy of Nelson Goodman.

There is also a short discussion of emotion and its relationship to good acting.

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  • APOSENTE-SE HOJE E GANHE R$ 4.650,00 PREVIDENCIA PRIVADA PLANO FUTURO E O PROJETO VENDA BRASIL ESTA OREFECENDO UMA APOSENTADORIA PARA O RESTO DE SUA VIDA NO VALOR DE 10 SALARIOS MINIMOS COM UM INVESTIMENTO DE APENAS R$ 10,00 MENSAIS ATÉ COMPLETAR OS 11 SETORES A SUA FRENTE, SAIBA MAIS EM UMA CONFERÊNCIA ON-LINE. E FAÇA SEU CADASTRO AQUI:
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  • This is not presented as an example of good presentational design, but merely as a resource for those who were at the conference and wish to reacquaint themselves with the argument I presented.

    Some of the slides seem to have been slightly mauled in translation - apologies for that! On Slide 17, the third column heading should read 'Specific Training Activities'. Hope this is useful nonetheless.
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What Is Acting? Paper presented at NYU Theatre Pedagogy conference 2009

  1. 1. What is Acting? And how does answering this question help teachers?
  2. 2. Opening Joke <ul><li>Sir Laurence Olivier played the villain in the thriller Marathon Man and was teamed up with Dustin Hoffman. In a particularly gruesome scene, Olivier (playing a Nazi) tortured Hoffman by going at his teeth with dentist's tools. The scene called for Hoffman to be exhausted and sweaty. </li></ul><ul><li>Hoffman, famous for his method acting, went several days without bathing or very much sleep. When he came to the set in this condition Olivier said, &quot;Dear boy, you look awful. Why don't you try acting?&quot; </li></ul>
  3. 3. Marathon Man
  4. 4. My Argument <ul><li>“ Acting” is a contested term – there is no agreement as to what it involves, what skills are required, and how (or even if ) you can learn them. </li></ul><ul><li>Different definitions of acting will necessarily lead to different approaches to the teaching of acting – what you think acting is affects how you think it should be taught . </li></ul><ul><li>Aesthetic Philosophy (particularly that of Nelson Goodman) can help us come up with a robust characterization of “acting” which can then inform pedagogical practice at every level. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Dion Boucicault (1820-1890) <ul><li>You must absolutely have principles in all arts.  You cannot produce your own thoughts, your own feelings, unless you have some principles as some guide, some ground… Well, this is, as l have said a large subject. I cannot do more in an hour than just skim the surface. I can, as Newton said, but wander on the shore of the great ocean and pick up the shells. I can but give you enough to make you understand what our art is, its philosophic principles; that a good actor is not due to accident, that a man is not born to be an actor unless he is trained.   </li></ul><ul><li>Dion Boucicault (1820-1890)   </li></ul>
  6. 6. Point One <ul><li>There are many definitions of acting, some of which are deeply contradictory, mutually exclusive and sometimes even polar opposites. </li></ul>
  7. 7. William Archer (1888) <ul><li>Acting is of all the arts the most purely imitative. In this respect it stands at the opposite pole from music, with sculpture, painting, poetry, in intermediate positions…acting is imitative or it  is nothing…when it ceases to be imitation it  ceases to be acting and becomes something else - oratory perhaps, perhaps ballet-dancing or posturing. </li></ul>
  8. 8. William Archer’s (1888) Model of the Arts
  9. 9. Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute (1998) <ul><li>Acting is generally agreed to be a matter of less mimicry, exhibitionism, or imitation than the ability to react to imaginary stimuli. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Acting: Imitative or Not? <ul><li>William Archer </li></ul><ul><li>Acting is imitation: </li></ul><ul><li>Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute </li></ul><ul><li>Acting is reaction to imaginary stimuli, not imitation: </li></ul>My uncle has stolen the crown! My father has been murdered! Now I’m just like you! Actor
  11. 11. Denis Diderot (1883) <ul><li>In order to move the audience the actor must remain unmoved. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Constantin Stanislavski (1936) <ul><li>You must live [the part] by actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it, each and every time you repeat the process of creating it. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Acting: Feeling or Not? <ul><li>Denis Diderot </li></ul><ul><li>Actor must remain unmoved: </li></ul><ul><li>Constantin Stanislavski </li></ul><ul><li>Actor must be moved: </li></ul>I feel nothing! I’m just so SAD!
  14. 14. More Definitions… <ul><li>  </li></ul><ul><li>Acting is acting. It's all basically a series of problems you try to solve…you just want to find some level of truth and believability in and try to solve problems along the way. </li></ul><ul><li>- Brent Spiner </li></ul><ul><li>I don't know what acting is, but I enjoy it. </li></ul><ul><li>- Anthony Hopkins </li></ul>
  15. 15. George Henry Lewes (1875) <ul><li>I have heard those for whose opinions in other directions my respect is great, utter judgments on this subject which proved that they had not even a suspicion of what the Art of Acting really is. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Point Two <ul><li>Your definition of acting will (or should ) affect your approach toward teaching people how to act – it will lead to different pedagogical values and different teaching methods. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Specific Training Activities Values in Pedagogy Definition of Acting
  18. 18. Lecoq and Strasberg – Incompatible Definitions, Incompatible Pedagogies <ul><li>Jacques Lecoq </li></ul><ul><li>Lee Strasberg </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>International Theatre School Jacques Lecoq </li></ul><ul><li>The International Theatre School Jacques Lecoq teaches the control of gesture and movement through melodrama, human comedy, tragedy, “bouffons” and clown. </li></ul><ul><li>The School expresses creative drama in all its different forms… it provides foundations, as broad and as permanent as possible. </li></ul><ul><li>Lees Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute </li></ul><ul><li>The goal of the Program is to teach students to be truthful in imaginary situations by using their senses, emotions, imaginations and memories. </li></ul><ul><li>The Method is simply what all actors have done when acting well! </li></ul>
  20. 20. Point Three <ul><li>Aesthetic philosophy can help us come up with a more robust characterization of what acting actually is , and so help us with this problem. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Nelson Goodman (1906-1998)
  22. 22. Goodman’s Philosophy of Art <ul><li>Things aren’t “art” or “not art”, but instead “function as art” at particular times and in particular contexts. </li></ul><ul><li>The nature of this “functioning” is a particular set of symbolic “symptoms” (there are 5), so that things displaying those “symptoms” are probably “functioning as art”. </li></ul><ul><li>Art is communication in “symbolic languages”. </li></ul>
  23. 23. A Goodmanian View of Acting <ul><li>Break acting down into its constituent “symbolic languages”: speech, movement, facial expression etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on what it is the audience can in fact perceive : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>There is no direct communication of emotion from actor to audience. Rather, audience perceives physical characteristics and infers emotion. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Therefore, whether the actor is feeling emotion or not is strictly irrelevant unless the feeling of emotion is required to display certain physiological characteristics . </li></ul></ul>
  24. 24. A note on feeling emotions <ul><li>If the actor could fake all the physiological signals of an emotion without actually feeling that emotion, then the audience would not know the difference. </li></ul><ul><li>We have all been fooled by someone who feigns emotion in this way – we know it can be done. </li></ul><ul><li>Also, puppets presumably feel no emotion but induce it in audiences. </li></ul>
  25. 25. The Emotion Pill – a thought experiment <ul><li>If you could take this pill… </li></ul><ul><li>and get this reaction: </li></ul><ul><li>you wouldn’t need to actually feel the emotion. </li></ul>
  26. 26. A note on “true signals” <ul><li>But perhaps there are physiological signs of emotion that cannot be produced at will, without the actor actually experiencing the emotion? </li></ul><ul><li>These have been called “true signals”. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Strassberg on “true signals” <ul><li>He walked over to her as he was talking to her, put his hand on her hair, and started to lift her. I have seen inspired performances, but I have not seen the moment of inspiration strike as suddenly as it did then. He touched her, and it seemed to create an impulse. Suddenly, the blood rushed into Grasso’s face; his eyes distended. This wasn’t acting: this was real – real blood, real bursting of blood-vessels…The great actor had suddenly proved that he was a great actor! (1988, p.26) </li></ul>
  28. 28. Were these “true signals”? <ul><li>Perhaps, but perhaps not: there are well-known and well-used ways to artificially distend your pupils, and ways to artificially induce crying have been known for a long time. </li></ul><ul><li>How did Strassberg see his pupils anyway? He must get better seats at the theatre than I get! </li></ul>
  29. 29. Signals: True or False? <ul><li>Bladerunner </li></ul><ul><li>Voight-Kampff test used to determine if subject is “replicant”: </li></ul><ul><li>Belladonna </li></ul><ul><li>Belladona plant used to artificially dilate women’s pupils for cosmetic effect: </li></ul>
  30. 30. So, “What is Acting?” <ul><li>I submit that acting is the process of communicating in multiple symbolic languages at once over time. </li></ul><ul><li>The excellent actor is the one who can ‘speak’ most fluently and appropriately in all these different symbolic languages in order to communicate what they wish to communicate. </li></ul><ul><li>Actor’s emotion only useful insofar as it produces a noticeable physiological response which communicates something of value to an audience. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Citations <ul><li>Archer, W. (1888). Masks or Faces? A Study in the Psychology of Acting . London: Longmans, Green, and Co. </li></ul><ul><li>Boucicault, D. cited at: http:// www.michaelbillington.org.uk/html/essays.html </li></ul><ul><li>Diderot, D. (1883). The Paradox of Acting. London: Chatto and Windus. </li></ul><ul><li>Goodman, N. (1988). Languages of Art. Hackett Publishing Co, Inc. </li></ul><ul><li>Lecoq, J. (2002). The Moving Body (Le Corps poétique). London: Methuen. </li></ul><ul><li>Lewes, G.H. (1875). On Actors and the Art of Acting . London: Smith, Elder & Co. </li></ul><ul><li>Stanislavski, C. (1989). An Actor Prepares. New York: Routledge. </li></ul><ul><li>Strasberg, L. (1988). A Dream of Passion: The Development of The Method. New York: Plume. </li></ul>

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