Friday, April 25, 2008

ON ACTING: Achieving Full Audience Character Identification

The student said:

"As I understand it, my chore as an actor is enable the audience to identify (emotionally connect) with my character--to enable the audience to achieve, as one author phrased it, the 'ecstasy of emotional [self] recognition'.

"My dilemma: How can that identification possibly happen with every character I play? Let's say I play an old man, or a pregnant mother, or even a mentally challenged teenager, how can audience members who are NOT old men, pregnant women or mentally-challenged teenagers identify with my character performance? Where is the audience self-recognition possible in that?"

I responded:

"Aristotle provides the answer. His philosophy, stated simply, is that only by delving so deeply and thoroughly in the particulars of physical life can transcendent, or universal, truth be known.

"So the actor who wishes to create a character performance (be it old man, pregnant mother or mentally challenged teen-ager) that can achieve universal audience recognition or identification must delve deeply in his/her own particular self (as-defined-by-character, of course). Beneath the particulars of the character he/she is performing, at the bottom of his own/her own particulars, beyond age, beyond gender, beyond mental capability lies the universal human truth; and the universally identifiable aspects of the performance.

"To achieve total audience recognition/identification, the actor-as-character must live his/her life onstage or in film in that deepest emotional condition possible. Because it is there, at that deepest level of human feeling and interaction, beneath the particulars, that actors-as-characters and audience members alike become common-experiencing human beings, and are able to share an identifiable common origin and common destiny. At that level all humans face the same existential rigors of life, death, permanence and meaning, and share in common the emotional shocks that these questions/rigors created in our existence.

"So: my character may be pregnant, but the particular rejection my character may face by the abandonment of the baby's father, may, in the story, be the abandonment of a woman by a man, a mother by her mate, but it is also, at some deeper level, the abandonment felt BY US ALL by the loss of any loved one, mother,father, sister, brother; and even--one could argue--the abandonment of our existence to a random and inevitable form of human change--death--that few seek to have thrust on them but all will experience.

"So when the actor-as-character moves emotionally in this manner, from the particular to the universal, beyond the social and psychological particulars of the role to resonate through those particulars the deepest philosophical echoes of our common humanity, at that point, universal recognition and identification is not only possible, it is inevitable."


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