Many scholars have given different definitions of acting. The meeting point of all definitions is in acting being the ability to tell a story through enactment; using movements and gestures to portray a character or tell a story. Acting is considered to have been in existence long before the world acknowledged it for what it is, long before Thespis was acknowledged as the first actor in the 6th century BC.
Some believe through speculations that acting started from the early cavemen who must have re-enacted their hunting expeditions and other experiences. Others believe the origins of acting are in the act of remembering and that acting may have begun when Egyptian actor-priests 0worshipped the memory of the dead in 4000 BC.
Acting, however, officially dates back to 534 BC, when a priest of Dionysus named Thespis astonished the audience of a play by jumping on the back of a wooden cart and reciting poetry as if he was the character being portrayed. Pulling off the act flawlessly earned him the title of the first actor to appear on stage as a character in a play. If you’ve ever wondered why actors are often called Thespians, it is because the actors in the West named themselves after Thespis, the father of acting.
Acting as an art
There is no universally accepted definition of art as different schools of thought have different meanings of it, based on perspective. Art is the creation of visual, auditory or performed works that express the author’s imagination. It is a highly diverse range of activities intended to be appreciated for its beauty and creativity. There are three broad forms of art: literary, visual and performance, and for something to be referred to as an art, it must be in one of these forms.
Interestingly, acting is a combination of these three forms, thus making it a powerful work of art. Although the core of acting is in the performance element, the other forms aid an actor’s character and set the tone or mood to understand him. Acting uses the literary element of the script, which can be in the form of a dialogue or a monologue, and the visual element that comes to play in costume, set, light, and special effects.
You can have the literary and visual elements displayed, but it is equivalent to window dressing without an actor’s performance. Acting can either be for the screen or the stage. Stage acting is often more exaggerated than screen acting and also needs a stronger vocal presence.
Acting is possibly one of the most challenging careers to take up. While it is true that acting may come easy to some people, you cannot underestimate the level of hard work, training, and commitment required to execute roles effectively. In addition, some basic skills and abilities are required of an actor to have believable and exceptional performances.
- Good vocal and stage or screen presence: The actor will work to have a voice and body that are flexible, supple, impulsive and available to express a wide variety of actions. They learn to do this through training and experience.
- The ability to enter different characters and engage with an audience: A critical factor in determining a good actor is how naturally he plays his role and portrays his character. Acting must never seem forced or give an uncomfortable disposition. A skilful actor makes every part easy and natural. At its most basic, the actor’s job is to communicate or express the thoughts and feelings of the character in that particular situation.
- The ability to memorise lines: Lines constitute a significant part of acting. There can be mimetic acting which is just the use of body expressions without sound, but acting mostly uses lines as a medium of expression. Every good actor must be willing to memorise lines and not rely on improvisations alone.
- Good understanding of dramatic techniques and styles: A good actor knows the difference between acting in a comedy or a farce and acting in a tragedy or any other genre. A good understanding of when to project, when to engage vocal dynamics, when to change the tone, etc., are all important in effectively executing a role.
- Confidence, energy and dedication to perform: An actor cannot afford to be shy. Acting requires all your body parts and emotions, and a good actor must be willing to confidently and energetically use all.
It wouldn’t be out of place to say that an actor himself is his own tool. He creatively uses all he has to achieve the purpose of acting and inciting intended emotions. The actor himself as a tool can be broken down into three essential tools:
His body: An actor’s body is a world on its own: a world meant to be studied, explored and understood. There is a lot an actor can do with his body as a tool. He can sharpen it, rid it of unwanted elements, and be in control of it. From facial expressions to gestures and mimetic actions, an actor is not afraid of using any and every part of his body to nail his act.
His voice: The voice in itself is a conveyor of emotions. Anger, fear, love, joy, indifference, etc., are many emotions the voice can convey. An actor should tell a story with his voice as much as he describes it with his body. The body and the voice must be in harmony and should always sync except for intentional cases of irony or sarcasm.
His mind: A good use of intellect and imagination are crucial for every actor’s expertise and growth. An actor must have an imaginative mind, and he must be thoughtful as well as creative. The mind of an actor must be sharp, and his ability to pick up details from everyday life and use them as applicable in his acts must be honed.
Actors must be empathetically involved in the emotional world of their characters while simultaneously meeting the technical needs of articulation and projection. Following the director’s blocking, adjusting to the audience’s laughter and reactions, working with props, and the ability to deal with unforeseen circumstances while acting are all technical skills that an actor must-have. A good balance of these is what separates the professional actors from the amateurs.