Off-Cut Thirty One
The Age in Melbourne on July 14th 2001 published an article by Arthur Miller, America's famed playwright, who examined politicians and performance. This very readable essay provided an interesting exploration of both the art of acting and our view of stars and political leaders.
George Bush's "dire over-emphasis" when leading up to and delivering the punchline in a speech was bad acting he declared for it cast doubt on the text. Not good for a politician who is trying to sell the content of his speech. The actor has a slightly different problem, for mostly it is not the content which is affected when an actor over emphasizes a line. It's the character who is not believed and the actor who suffers the blame.
But one of the significant issues Arthur explored was the strange crossover between politicians or statesman not being perceived to be who they were in their public performance, that is being perceived to be other than what they were. He cited images of the great General Eisenhower who was not a good actor and Bill Clinton who was. This debate stimulates the argument about whether acting is creating a lie or the truth.
He tells the story of an extraordinary performance by Jacob Ben Ami who in a Yiddish play performed in downtown Manhattan created a performance that became a hit. In the play, according to Arthur Miller's story, Ben Ami stood alone at the edge of the stage in one scene and explored the agony of someone trying to commit suicide with a revolver. People marveled at the power and emotional potency of the performance and specifically came to just see this. After the run of the play had finished Ben Ami explained to his dresser Robert Lewis (later to become a successful Broadway director) that as he personally was not suicidal he could never really know what the man was feeling so he found a parallel in his own life which he could draw on. The parallel situation he found was the difficulty he would have stepping into an icy cold shower. And that's what he was working with each night he stood there with the revolver in his hand. Is this truthful acting or is this a lie?
Arthur Miller's summation was that anything which is "not turned into art disappears for ever". However if an artist manages through his work to "pierce the truth, he cannot dissimilate, he cannot fake" that.
An interesting goal for the actor - "to pierce the truth".
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