acting (narrative performance) The ability of a figure to articulate narrative through speech, facial expression, physical gesture and physical movement and in doing so represent character and action in a drama. Acting might principally be thought of as a person acting a part, but there are many cartoon characters with drawn animation and now many CGI characters, who articulate character in narrative in the same way as a human figure. What this illustrates is that acting is a representation of character and there is actually no underlying psychology, personality and identity but a series of actions and cues that the audience understand to be a figure, a person, a character with an interiority that hosts emotions, intentions, conscious and unconscious reactions and responses, as part of a personal history and social identity and role.
Actual life, social experience, has a performative element, people will make a conscious effort and behave in certain ways, but this is not performance in the sense of producing a character as part of a narrative form and this is because in a dramatic form the story action is defined and dictated by the narrative: film and stage acting has a discipline in order for it to be part of a story narration, and this aim is not the same as controlling one’s attitude or behaviour in actual life. The skills of an actor requires a correspondence to a character, based either on a set text, the screenplay for a film, or for a character defined through improvisation who will be developed across a period of rehearsals, research and discussions in order to offer a coherence of character and so support narration.
When non-actors attempt a performance which is meant to be acting, what is produced is often just a general impersonation: behaving with the characteristics of a particular emotion, angry, sad, keen, determined, and with expressions and gestures that match an impression of the social and cultural behaviour of a gender identity, social class, or ethnic group, producing a stereotype of a person. This is a failure in acting, because this emotional and social behaviour lacks the details and authenticity of controlled dramatic, acted performance: it will not connect to a detailed narrative.
Two of the terms used by actors is that their body or voice is an instrument, or that the best acting is in the moment, and these can seem like pretentious, vague, even facile claims to explicate acting, but the idea of an instrument shows that actors needs to have precise control of voice, expression, gesture, movement, so that the idea of instrument being understood and expressively used in valid, and the term being in the moment, reflects the successful practice of acting, because this is when the fluency of the performance, the level of the skills is such that the actor can respond immediately, apparently intuitively to the scene they are performing in: never letting their character drop, when responding to others in the scene: pauses and failure in acting showing as lacunae, the actor failing to act to support the narrative.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for acting is that all the elements of voice and physicality have to be controlled and expressive, and this is why bad actors are considered to be wooden: they might be able to speak the lines, but their expression and physicality is poor. The influence of good acting is such that not only does the audience accept the realism and authenticity of the performance, it is also believed that the actor actually, as individuals in real life, possesses the qualities, personality and identity which is close to the character they have portrayed in a narrative when there is no overarching reason to assume this.
In relation to typecasting, this is the belief and practice of casting an actor who appears to be ‘right’ for the character, in terms of ethnicity, age, and attitude. This choice in cast may support and give some elements of authenticity to the character, but it does not mean that they can act and match the demands of the narrative to their acting skills.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019