Meaning of ACTING in English


the performing art in which an actor by means of movement, gesture, and intonation attempts to realize a fictional character for the stage, for motion picture, and for television. A certain difficulty in defining what an actor does derives from the absence in Western theatre of a single tradition of acting technique. Innumerable choices confront the actor in his interpretation of the character, the dynamics of the movement, and the way he will speak the text. The traditional Asian actor, on the other hand, is faced with comparatively few choices. He must master each role down to the minutest details according to a tradition refined over centuries by the subtle innovations of great actors. Within that rigid physical and vocal framework, he is then free to concentrate on spontaneity. The ephemeral nature of acting also makes it difficult to place in a historical context. A performance exists only for the length of the play and has to be re-created each night. Until the advent of motion pictures and sound recording, there was no way of fixing a performance for all time, so there are only the written descriptions and paintings of contemporaries to indicate what the great actors of the past might have been like. Most discussion on the craft of acting centres on an effort to understand relationships between the technical skill an actor requires and the sensibilities that lie beneath them, since the actor is both the instrument and the player. The most direct example of this is the question of an actor's emotion: How much of what an actor projects is genuine emotion and how much is feigned? The history of acting has been paralleled by a search for systems that will lead to a more reliable understanding of the creative process that makes an actor. Aristotle doubted that acting could be taught at all, and more than 2,000 years later the issue remains unresolved. Denis Diderot's 18th-century essay Paradox of Acting stressed the need for control, concluding that if the actor is to move the audience, he must himself remain unmoved. How the actor could achieve this on cue several nights running remained to Diderot an unsolved problem. In the late 19th century the Russian director Konstantin Stanislavsky suggested how the actor might recapture those moments when a performance had been truly inspired. Basing his work on an understanding of human psychology, Stanislavsky developed the concept of "affective memory." By focusing on a deep emotional experience in his past, he suggested, the actor could learn to stimulate a similar emotional state in the present and to channel it to the requirements of a particular scene. Stanislavsky also drew attention to the importance of subtext, the nuances that lay beneath the lines. Some of Stanislavsky's ideas were adopted in the mid-20th century by Lee Strasberg at the Actors' Studio in New York City and popularized as "the method." This was partly based on misunderstanding, because Stanislavsky's writings in which he stressed the need for technique were not then available in translation. Nevertheless, the movement produced many fine screen actors. The major influence on acting after Stanislavsky was the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. He saw characters as representatives of the class struggle and required his actors to stand outside themselves in order to present more objectively the arguments of the play. A third influence was Jerzy Grotowski, the Polish director who in the 1960s introduced a new level of intensity to acting achievable through fiercely rigorous training of the voice and body. All three of these directors emphasized a more disciplined approach to the craft of acting through which the actor could build what Grotowski called "the physical score" of the role. Like the Asian actor, he would then be free to find a spontaneity without the performance losing its shape. Two important areas of training today are in vocal and physical work. Vocal training aims to help the actor develop strength, expressiveness, and flexibility of voice so that he may portray a variety of characters. Similarly, physical training works to make the body supple and expressive. Physically the actor must operate in a state of concentrated alertness, for which he must find a balance between tension and relaxation. Improvisation, a favourite device of Stanislavsky's, is still at the core of the psychological aspects of training. It helps develop a sense of truthfulness in performance and encourages the actor to listen and respond naturally to his partner. The rehearsal process is a period of collaboration with the director and fellow actors to arrive at an interpretation for the character and the play as a whole. This is the time when the actor shapes his creation, testing and revising it until he arrives at a finished, repeatable work. Even after the opening night, a performance should continue to grow as the actor makes new discoveries within what he has created. One of the preoccupations of 20th-century Western theatre has been the question of style-that is, not the manners and customs of a particular period but rather the specific content and reality of a particular play. The ways in which classic plays-such as those of Shakespeare, Molire, and Chekhov, for example-have been re-created for modern audiences reveal the range of acting styles possible. Performance style is thus (in Western theatre, at least) subject to change with the changing perceptions of succeeding generations. In motion pictures and television the principles of acting are basically the same as they are for the stage, though truthfulness is even more crucial because the camera in close-up will easily expose any lack of concentration. In motion pictures, editing makes possible a composite performance compiled from several "takes," which has meant that some screen idols have succeeded on the screen through natural charm and looks alone. This is partly why screen actors sometimes lack the technical skills to work in the live theatre, whereas skilled stage actors can often successfully adapt to motion pictures and television. the performing art in which movement, gesture, and intonation are used to realize a fictional character for the stage, for motion pictures, or for television. Acting is generally agreed to be a matter less of mimicry, exhibitionism, or imitation than of the ability to react to imaginary stimuli. Its essential elements remain the twin requisites enunciated by the French actor Franois-Joseph Talma in his tribute to the actor Lekain (1825): "an extreme sensibility and a profound intelligence." For Talma it is sensibility that allows an actor to mark his face with the emotions of the character he is playing and to convey the intentions of the playwright, the implications of the text, and the movements of the "soul" of the character. Intelligence-the understanding of the workings of the human personality-is the faculty that orders these impressions for an audience. The essential problems in acting-those of whether the actor actually "feels" or merely imitates, of whether he should speak naturally or rhetorically, and of what actually constitutes being natural-are as old as theatre itself. They are concerned not merely with "realistic" acting, which arose in the theatre of the 19th century, but with the nature of the acting process itself. The ephemeral nature of acting has left it without many practical foundations and only a few theoretical traditions. In the middle of the 18th century the German critic and dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing drew attention to this difficulty: "We have actors but no art of acting." In an artistic field where the measures of greatness are traditionally the subjective reports of witnesses or critics, the understanding of the art has naturally remained in dispute. It remains as true today as when stated by George Henry Lewes in his On Actors and the Art of Acting (1875): I have heard those for whose opinions in other directions my respect is great, utter judgments on this subject which proved that they had not even a suspicion of what the art of acting really is. Efforts to define the nature of an art or craft usually are based upon the masterpieces of that field. Without that necessary reference point, vague speculations and generalizations-without proof of validity-are likely. In the visual, musical, and literary arts, this foundation exists; the work of the great masters of the past and the present serves not only to elucidate the art but also to create standards to emulate. It is difficult to imagine what the present state of comprehension of music would be if only the music of today were available, and the achievements of Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart had to be known only by hearsay. Yet, this is precisely the situation that exists in acting. The actor, in the words of the 19th-century American actor Lawrence Barrett, "is forever carving a statue of snow." That is why the understanding of acting has not equaled the appreciation of it and why the actor's creative process has defied comprehension. Additional reading Although the literature on actors and acting is overwhelming, most of it is of little informational value. The best anthology, with useful notes and bibliography, is Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy (eds.), Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the Great Actors of All Times as Told in Their Own Words, rev. ed. (1970). The most valuable individual statements are those of Luigi Riccoboni, F.J. Talma, and William Gillette; some of these are reprinted completely in Papers on Acting, edited by Brander Matthews (1958), which also includes the polemic between Henry Irving and C. Coquelin. A useful introduction to the literature is Edwin Duerr, The Length and Depth of Acting (1962), though flawed by the inability to relate theory to practice.Basic to modern understanding are Konstantin Stanislavsky, An Actor Prepares, translated from the Russian (1936, reissued 1980), Building a Character (1949, reissued 1979), and Creating a Role (1961, reissued 1981), English trans. edited and abridged by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. Stanislavski's Legacy: A Collection of Comments on a Variety of Aspects of an Actor's Art and Life, rev. and expanded ed., edited and translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood (1968, reissued 1971), collects further fragments of his thoughts on acting and its critics, as well as his memories of Anton Chekhov. Also useful are Robert Lewis, Method or Madness? (1958); Lee Strasberg, "Acting and the Training of the Actor," in John Gassner, Producing the Play, rev. ed. (1953); Robert Hethmon (ed.), Strasberg at the Actors Studio (1965); Richard Boleslavski, Acting: The First Six Lessons (1933, reprinted 1980); and Jean Benedetti, Stanislavski, an Introduction (1982). For a proper appreciation of Stanislavsky's approach, the work of his pupil Yevgeny Vakhtangov is essential, a brilliant description of which is in Nikolai Gorchakov, The Vakhtangov School of Stage Art (1959?; originally published in Russian, 1957). Contributions on acting that add dimensions to the study of the art come from Joseph Chaikin, The Presence of the Actor (1972, reprinted 1980); Charles Marowitz, The Act of Being (1978); Michel Saint-Denis, Theatre: The Rediscovery of Style (1960); Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater (1963, reissued 1983); John Hodgson and Ernest Richards, Improvisation, new rev. ed. (1974, reprinted 1979); and Michael Chekhov, To the Actor: On the Technique of Acting (1953, reissued 1985).Essential texts on Oriental theatre include J. Thomas Rimer and Masakazu Yamazaki (trans.), On the Art of the No Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami (1984); and Jisho Hachimonjiya, The Actors' Analects, edited and translated by Charles J. Dunn and Bunzo Torigoe (1969), a collection of "advice and notes" by Kabuki actors of the 17th century. Modern Japanese ideas are explored in Suzuki Tadashi, The Way of Acting, trans. from Japanese (1986). British acting tradition is analyzed in Antony Sher, Year of the King: An Actor's Diary and Sketchbook (1985), a revealing memoir of his creation of the role of Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Simon Callow, Being an Actor (1984); and Laurence Olivier, On Acting (1986), a book on craft.No history of acting can be written without a knowledge of what acting consists of and the creative processes involved. German students have in specialized studies and dissertations tried to formulate methods for studying the actor's work by examining critical descriptions, stage directions, and iconographical material. A bibliography is available in Hans Knudsen, Methodik der Theaterwissenschaft (1971). Lee Strasberg Ned Chaillet

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