Acting and Non-Acting part 2

Continuing to think about Michael Kirby’s model describing a spectrum of acting through not-acting. At the non-acting end, (as discussed in my previous post) Kirby suggests that performers who appear on stage in a costume for example but who do nothing but walk across the stage or stand in line “seem to act, but do not” (42). The sense of acting, then, is arrived at solely through the perception of the audience reading the “situational matrix” of the costume, setting, posture and expression (even though passive) as casting the performer as an actor or as doing something called acting. Breaking this down a bit, the work of the actor is to create a fictional character, to be a participant in the fictional world of the play. Then Kirby seems to do here is to conflate actor with the successful work that actors do to engender a character. So I would say for clarity, then, that this passive costume-wearing performer does not actively do any work to engender a role. All the work is being done by the audience who enfolds the performer in the fiction context provided by theatricalizing frame. A character is created in spite of the not-acting performer body. The performer then is effectively fictionalized  like a prop or set piece.

Moving along the scale, Kirby describes what he calls “simple acting.” This kind of work involves, first, an awareness of the audience, of being on a stage. And, then from this awareness, the performer responds energetically to the situation projecting ideas and emotions, underlining and theatricalizing (Kirby’s word) them for the sake of the audience. This is where the performer starts to express some effort to act. Significantly, Kirby does not suggest the the performer is pretending or assuming an alternate persona, simply that she is aware of the audience and works to communicate to them in a heightened or crafted way. Public speaking (or lecturing) would fall into this category I imagine. But, in the case of public speaking or lecturing, there is not perception by the audience that the performer has entered into a fictional world. The situational matrices to encourage that transformation is absent in these contexts. Is it possible to act simply” and indeed become fictionalized? What would that look like?

Finally, at the far end of the spectrum “complex acting,” Kirby says very little about this state except to say that it involves “more subtle variations and more detail” (46). At the end of the article, Kirby looks at several examples where performers seem be involved in acting and then shift to non-acting and vice versa. E.g. an argument which at first seems to be real but is actually part of the play. The key point here for me is that this shift (as Kirby says) is not about actor intention because I can’t really tell if they are acting or not acting. The shift is really about manipulating the audience assumption of which world we are in. Various external features of the “matrix” encourage me to view this performance as acting or as non-matrixed not acting. Actually this works both ways. Clues from the perceptual “matrix” can tell me that yes, this should be read as fiction; but likewise clues — like real names, “everyday clothes” “worklights” — can also indicate that this should be read as not-acting.

Certainly moving forward, I will be paying attention to these extra-performance elements and how they encourage or discourage us to see the “real.”

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One response to “Acting and Non-Acting part 2

  1. Pingback: The Postdramatic Value of Amateur Aesthetics | Upsurges of the Real: a performance research blog·

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