Shot Behind The Theatre

A whimsical and readable blog

Enunciative Theatre: or, something all actors and directors should start learning

A few months ago, I saw a friend of mine perform in an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Most of the other actors were either barely out of high school or their university degrees, so fresh, raw talent filled the air of the show. I recently directed this actor-friend so I might be slightly biased, but some of the best moments of the shows were the ones with her on stage. After the show, I attempted to explain why and how I thought her performance outranked several other actors who were, let’s be honest, acting with pretension. Unfortunately, there are few actors with her je-ne-sais-quoi in the city that I have seen; most are usually from out of town or from the Mecca of theatre–Europe. These few, however, posses a natural skill that, I believe, can and should ultimately be learned, but currently, it’s not being taught in any major training program that I know of in Vancouver (Being proved wrong would thrill me. Seriously.).

Initially I described this friend’s acting style as “demonstrative” in the sense that it demonstrated to me the aesthetic, artistic,  critical and even feminist qualities of the character she was playing. “Demonstrative” is definitely not a word an actor wants to hear but it was the best I could muster without going into the Brechtian, alienation-effect which took me at least a year to figure out for myself. What I should have said was that she was enunciating the subtleties of her part, rather than simply playing them as a method actor would. She did not become the character, she showed us the character.

Bertolt Brecht with his bad-ass frames.

Bertolt Brecht with his bad-ass frames.

This entry is from the “Dictionary of Theatre Terms” and falls under the fourth definition of “meta-theatre”:

“Theatre work becomes an activity of reflection and play, blithely mixing the utterance (the text to be spoken, the performance to be produced) with the enunciation (the reflection on the act of saying). This practise speaks of a meta-critical attitude on theatre and enriches contemporary theatre.”

Performing nowadays should not just be saying the words and embodying the character, great acting requires an actor’s subtle critical reflection on who the character is and their presence in the overall stage picture. The actor is required to reflect on the implications of their character’s actions, motives and objectives and convey that interpretation to the audience. It’s no longer just doing the part; actors have to be critically aware of what they are saying and the interpretive effects it may or may not have. Another way to describe it would be dramaturgical, in the sense that the acting is informed by the structure of the script as well as any critical research that went into writing the play. To those obsessed with method acting, I suppose it’s just a matter of embodying your character more fully.

It’s all well and good if an actor wants to just “play” a part, but, in contemporary theatre, I do not believe that is enough to seriously entertain audiences. We must not forget that important caveat. Theatre is for the AUDIENCE. I could give a flying fuck how the actor feels about their creative process–if they can’t do it with enough gusto to amuse people, they’re just wasting time. With film everywhere in our lives, we have arguably grown accustomed to the characters being interpreted for us with visual focal points. Not only do we see the actors on screen, they are framed in such a way that sub-consciously tells us how we should feel about them. Close-up shots imply an emotional intensity, long-shots imply emotional distance and so on and so forth. In Bryan Fuller’s incredibly beautiful series Hannibal, Fuller frames Hannibal and Will in therapy sessions facing directly opposite each other which, jumping from a close up of each character to the other, suggests a verbal tennis-match, a competition, a contest, a game to be won with words. The cinematic era we live in makes extra demands from theatre actors, artistic accomplishments that film accomplishes with framing and a camera. If theatre is to continue to compete with film (don’t let anyone tell you it’s not, because it most certainly is), it either needs to start imitating the reflective nature of camera shots through a constantly evolving acting style, or change its aesthetic all together. Theatre artists like Robert LePage do this to great extends–go see Dark Side of the Moon. It takes full advantage of qualities of live performance that film could never hope to replicate. Step away from kitchen-sink dramas that Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond have already done to comic perfection.

Hopefully my actor-friend appreciates the compliment I was struggling to articulate. She’s doing work that I would argue will be become prevalent in this theatre community, given that it is already the practise in other parts of the country and world. Enough of this “method” mumbo-jumbo. It’s not about the actor. It’s about the audience. It’s about the words being spoken. It’s about their truth, whatever the present context.


3 comments on “Enunciative Theatre: or, something all actors and directors should start learning

  1. Matt Willis 2.0
    January 11, 2016

    what you’re likely getting at is that theatre is (now, and for a while) the least powerful/important art we have. cinema, music, visual art, writing, architecture, sculpture, photography, etc. etc. all have more to offer humanity and are more valuable.

    • shotbehindthetheatre
      January 11, 2016

      Not exactly but I don’t entirely disagree. The theatre I see in Vancouver puts a heavy emphasis on the journey/experience of the artist in the role, in my opinion, while the audience is a secondary priority. Instead of going through the methods to “feel” whatever that particular character is feeling, actors need to enunciate the social and political struggles they endure in a context relate-able to the place and people. The actor’s experience and understanding of the character, story, etc., must come secondary to the audience’s understanding and, theoretically, their entertainment. In order to do so, actors and directors should work towards enunciating their plays in palatable ways for the audience.

    • shotbehindthetheatre
      January 11, 2016

      Also– your name. Matt Willis 2.0? What’s that about?

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