Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "The Independent Actor"


Donald Wolfitt made a name for himself at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1936 as Hamlet, and he tried to persuade the management to finance him on a tour of the provinces. They declined the invitation, so he withdrew his savings and started his own touring company in 1937.


 I, like pretty much everyone else, have been indoctrinated to believe that an actor is someone who spends his time asking the powers that be for permission to do work, and occasionally that permission is granted. If a poet wants to work, he merely grabs his pen and starts writing, a filmmaker picks-up his camera, and a painter his brush. This seems patently obvious, none of these people feel that they need to seek permission in order to work, it would be absurd for them to do so. But this is not true for the actor, who is supposed to pass through some process before he is allowed to perform*. And, as always when a new production of my own starts to come into focus, one in which I will not only act, but write the script, direct and produce**, I must once again find a rationale for doing so, or, put another way; make the way clear for artistic freedom by sweeping away the dulling crust which forms around the employee mindset. One of the problems is that there is a tendency to over complicate things – essentially, all an actor does is communicate something to a group of people – but the complications arise when we think of it as a “career”, because then the notion of communicating something to a group of people becomes the holy grail rather than the norm – bizarrely, validation must be sought from outside agencies: attending auditions and meetings, but before we attend auditions and meetings, we have to set up those auditions and meetings, and how are we going to do that, and so on and so forth...yes, it can get complicated, and it's easy to see how the true work of the actor gets lost in the tunnel-vision-pursuit of winning the favour of potential benefactors (as we perceive them) - infact, many who try their hand at acting, quit, as they become overwhelmed, demoralised and exhausted by the constant demands of having to scythe their way through the layers of resistance between them and the audience.


As I try to design a philosophy which will carry me through my next project then , I wonder if the modern notion of the jobbing industrial actor need be rethought, and my mind turns to the pre-industrial actor. In the beginning, there was only the actors, who had formerly been priests but were cast out of the church for being too entertaining, moving from village to village, delivering corner-street oration for their daily bread; if they were good, then they ate, if they were bad then they starved to death (perhaps the choice for the modern day actor is not quite as stark, but perhaps that is one reason why standards are falling despite ever more “training”). But the point is, the actors were there long before the playwrights, long before the directors and the producers, and the theatres and the marketing people, and (the most powerful class in our society) the bureaucrats. Long, long before any these people came along, there was only the actor, who entered the village as a stranger, alone and broke, possessed with only his wits and his intent to create a powerful illusion – he certainly didn't ask permission.


So now it's the 21st century, and actors have been colonized by the paper-pushers – the implication is that the courage and generosity of the actor is worthless, that only obedience has any value. The downside risk of starvation is no longer the motor for the drive to greatness. Nowadays, the street corner is the internet, and digital technology offers the possibilty for the actor to reclaim the work which is rightfully his. It's time to cut out the middle men.


*Perhaps that is part of the actor, his psyche, that needs this process, but perhaps we shall reserve an analysis of that for another time.

**The separation of these job titles is, for me, in practical terms, utterly meaningless. I only separate them here to emphasize my point.



From Fake IndependenceToward A True Artistic Culture


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