Chambers’ Dictionary defines acting as “to imitate or play the part thereof” – which is fine for a dictionary definition – but the reality is a tad more complex.
In olden times, stage acting was purely representational. And even with the high-tech effects now available, it still has its limitations. Like, a car chase has to be done using abstract suggestion (unless you have one HELL of a big stage). Which is where cinema has the advantage.
Plus it features “the close-up”. No longer do actors have to overplay to reach the cheap seats (which was tough on those who’d mortgaged their houses to sit in the front row).
But while cinema allows us to suspend reality and believe we are watching real events (albewe invisible and suspended in mid-air, whilst constantly ping-ponging between the actors) it still has its limitations.
While modern actors may be prepared to disrobe, gain or lose weight and/or facial hair, there are still some basic activities that defeat even them. Like LYING. The thing is, when you lie to someone, you just talk normally. Only an expert can read the subtle signs of prevarication.
But as an actor, to convey deceit to the AUDIENCE, it is necessary to squirm, stutter, look away and generally behave in a shifty manner. All of which leaves the viewer with the impression that the person being lied to must be a MAJOR tool, not to see through it.
And what about LOVE? Love is an intimate chemistry which only the affected people feel. It defies logic, commonsense – and compatibility of those concerned. Acting cannot convey it. Only the EFFECT of it can be portrayed in drama.
But what of drama itself? One definition this writer has heard is, “Drama is life, with the boring bits left out.” Which is balderdash. TRUE drama is SURREAL. It HAS to be. No-one wants to sit and watch the mundane. We HAVE that, all day.
Drama is defined as the ability to convey something about the human condition – in a way which is MEMORABLE. This means dialogue filled with pith and moment. When ordinary people speak, they mumble, stumble and use mundane words. In drama, they use LANGUAGE.
How many times have you thought of a GREAT comeback – five minutes AFTER its devastating wit would have KILLED your opponent? No good THEN. And what about sitcom families who come up with a gag every ten SECONDS – even the KIDS?
At YOUR breakfast table, you’re lucky to come up with a line that funny once a MONTH. But then you don’t have “The Room” (twenty gag-writers, called “production assistants” or “programme associates”) working for DAYS to feed them to you.
And Shakespeare. Even THEN, people didn’t speak like that. Just as today’s writers must, Bill would agonise for hours over the PERFECT way to express a concept. The “To be or not to be” bit didn’t come to him at talking speed.
So the next time you’re watching a movie and think, “This is crap,” just spare a moment to consider the work that went into it. Given the cost these days, NO-ONE sets out to make a bad movie. It is a hand-crafted entity where a thousand-odd people busted their arses to continue a tradition that has endured since we wore SKINS.
The conveyance of ideas, concepts, visions and emotions. The production of drama and its associated acting trade are noble arts indeed.