ON ACTING: Presentational; or Emotionless Acting
Some contemporary advocates and devotees of Asian acting styles underscore their ‘presentational’ aspects as well. They see formal Asian styles of acting as a welcome antithetical relief to the European tradition of ‘realistic’ or emotionally involved acting, where form and substance have been traditionally symbiotically co-created.
However: Is Asian acting necessarily devoid of emotional base? Perhaps with its formal abstraction and construction it just seems non-emotionally based to Westerners. A Haiku poem may have only seventeen syllables; but does its rigidity of form necessarily preclude great passion in its genesis and transference? For that matter, is abstract dance—Eastern or Western—fundamentally emotionless? And if it not emotionally based, might we argue that it has less overall audience appeal than emotionally based dance?
The German playwright Bertolt Brecht, in the early twentieth century, after a few emotional representational plays written in his youth, and then deeply affected by the Asian theater forms, called for a ‘theater of alienation,’ where the actor’s performance—and audience--was alienated from its own emotions. (His theories went hand in hand with his political conversion to and his didactic desire to promulgate an East German brand of Marxism.) He saw the actor’s task to preach rather than to emotionally participate in any character-reality. He became convinced that the actor served the audience best by physically performing the actions of the piece in an instructive fashion, without emotional content. (Ironically, some critics say that he succeeded best in spite of himself: many of his most audience pleasing successes have been a result of audience’s emotionally connecting with his central characters, such as in the plays Mother Courage, The Good Woman of Setzuan and The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The audience learns his didactic message though feeling—emotional identification with the characters--and not simply his preaching!)
Some modern academic theorists also take great exception with what they see as the over-emphasis in modern acting on emotional reality, especially as it flows from Stanislavski to Strasberg to film. They call for a rewarding investigation into alternative styles and acting forms, with a greater emphasis on Asian and other art forms, in shape, design, body and theatricality sans emotion.
I dutifully respect their efforts; but I encourage their adherents, especially young actors who in their career, out of principle, desire, or formal training, want to emphasize the practice and performance of ‘presentational’ acting to study and practice ‘representational’ emotionally involved acting as well.
After all, the best ‘presentational’ actors must have an intimate experience with truth if they are to give it formal emotional-less shape later on. Then later, those actors who were only experimenting with 'represetational' emotion-based acting can always go back to his earlier, unemotionally involved acting: and measure the difference.