Thoughts on Theatre: Acting-the democratic art form

At first glance, what an actor does seems so simple, just pretending to be someone. When watching a skilled actor, it all seems so effortless. With just a little thought, we realize in fact how complex acting is. Artistically, aesthetically, psychologically, philosophically, athletically, and so much more. Every question someone could ask about acting opens a floodgate of considerations and issues. To begin at the beginning, let us focus on two simple observations.

First, one can argue that all of art is representation, Aristotle characterized art as imitation. If so, what do actors imitate? People. Thus acting is the metaphoric representation of other people. Because of this observation, one can also add that acting is the most democratic art form. If it is, in essence, a person metaphorically representing another person, then ALL people are automatically equipped to do it. By virtue of your personhood and your humanity, you are already capable of acting. (Can actors imitate “things” other than people? Animals, robots, cartoon characters, etc? Of course, but in every case those non-humans are “anthropomorphized” — they metaphorically still represent humans or humanized characteristics.)

Second, an earlier blog mentioned the role of actor training, but if we were to bore down into the core of acting, we might find one skill most centrally important: listening. It is a bit of a cliché among actors, but the simplest definition of acting one can find might be: listen and react. Since all human beings are equipped to both listen and react, this definition also captures the democratic heart of acting. If one begins to notice these two qualities in the actors they observe, then you will be under way for considering some of the deeper and more complex issues hidden within the art of acting.