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What Every Actor Should Know


Some people would say that acting has existed since humans learned how to lie for personal gain. Ok, maybe that’s a bit cynical, but how exactly does a craft go from being hated by Greek philosophers to being something that a whole lot of people think they absolutely have to do like it’s their life’s calling? And more importantly, what does the future hold? Desmond: Alright Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my closeup Narrator: This is the History of Acting. Greece, 534 B.C.E. Thespis is widely considered to be the first person to officially get on stage and perform a character other than himself. Maybe you’re more familiar with the word, “thespians.” Although we still perform plays by the likes of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the Greeks actually held actors in about the same regard as that other oldest profession, perhaps even respecting the latter a bit more for its honesty. Philosophers like Socrates and Plato hated actors for their ability to convincingly imitate and project false emotions. Which brings us to another person you might have heard of: their disciple, Aristotle. He, on the other hand, believed that drama could help real people feel real emotions. There were truths that actors were able to convey through their performances. Thanks to Aristotle, actors gained a little bit of respect until around 476. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Western Europeans basically stopped acting and pretty much everything else in order to slaughter each other in the name of God or die from plagues that God sent their way. Though there were definitely some interesting theater movements happening in the Byzantine Empire as well as in places like India, China, and Japan, acting, and pretty much everything else makes a comeback during the Renaissance and around the Mannerist period we see Commedia Dell’arte, and with it, masks and stock characters Elizabethan Drama in England gave us The Kingsmen, a theater called The Globe, and a guy named Shakespeare? With the exception of Shakespeare, who, undoubtedly, needs a video of his own, this is how acting existed for a long time. Borderline, overly-dramatized performances as a vehicle to convey truths found in the writing. Until the early 20th century, when a Russian acting teacher named Konstantin Stanislavski had a wild idea: Instead of offering a stylized, theatrical representation of human behavior, actors should try to act like real people when they perform. This paradigm shift in thinking led to what we would consider modern-day acting. More importantly, Stanislavski formalized how performers could do this, creating the first real system for acting. Stanislavski pioneered a series of exercises and guidelines intended to help an actor discover the inner emotional life of a character. To him, the words on the page were only the part of the character we could see, which wasn’t necessarily representative of the entire range of their emotions or memories. Which makes sense, considering we, in our normal lives, rarely say exactly what we feel. While this may sound like a formula for rogue actors going off script, Stanaslavski was also pretty adamant that actors needed to defer to the directors guidance and the artistic vision of the production. His greatest student, Mikhail Chekhov, added another dimension to the method: the psychological gesture. Chekhov believed that a physical movement could reveal the character’s true psychological state Another way of saying, actions speak louder than words. But from a practical standpoint, this meant that actors shouldn’t just study how people talked, but they should study how they moved as well. So how does all of this affect what we do today? Well, consider the timing of Stanislavski and his ideas. As he was advocating a greater degree of realism in the theater, the then-infant medium of film demanded more realistic performances from its actors, especially after the advent of sound, when even some veteran screen-performers couldn’t make the transition to talkies. This brings up an interesting thought as we venture into the “wild west” of New Media. What does a realistic performance look like in an Internet that thrives on its already apparent sense of authenticity? Stanislavski’s system had not only helped redefine a craft as old as written human history, but perhaps even set a precedent for its future in film. His method finally arrived in the United States, and specifically in Hollywood films, through 3 influential acting teachers: Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner, turning the method, into methods. Stay tuned for Part 2 in our series on acting where we talk about the method rivalry. and how The Godfather is probably the perfect petri dish to study all of them.

18 Comments

  1. Watch Meet Make Author

    Hey! Thanks for asking. We've been swamped setting up our own narrative channel but want to get back to WMM soon. Until then, on our site www.watchmeetmake.com we have some other good pieces on acting (type in search acting). Happy to keep you posted otherwise.

    Reply
  2. Abel & CAIN Author

    I liked your video. I appreciate the quality of your content but you missed a big chunk of history and perhaps the main part of the history of acting which was way before the Greek actor and it was in Persia . Persian Empire is one of the oldest nations on planet earth if not the oldest.

    Reply
  3. Watch Meet Make Author

    Thanks for the feedback. Please feel free to send us best links to the info on that. We'll be happy to consider for a future essay. We're always looking for the most interesting and accurate facts!

    Reply
  4. DH_Artist Author

    What angers me is that my theater teacher refuses to teach or use naturalism when performing. He’s so focused on making zany, wild characters, and I hate it. I want to convey real, raw emotions and real stories with real people, but he just wants caricatures with over exaggerated “emotions”. And he’s also resistant to playing off other people. He just wants us to repeat our lines the same way over time, orchestrated in a dull exchange that has No substance or sign of interest. I just wish he would do an interesting play for one, and let us use natural acting in it.

    Reply
  5. Matthew Soroko Author

    I don't think everyone wants to be an actor. I've been open about wanting to be an actor even in school. I like art, science and literature.

    Reply

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