That’s not Acting

I’ve been asked, “What’s ‘not’ acting.” Putting in to words what acting “isn’t” isn’t as easy as I originally thought it would be. When I see brilliant, amazing acting, it too is almost indefinable — the beauty, the artistry, the reality, the…wholeness of it. When I see bad acting, it’s…well, none of those things. And, frankly, even bad acting can be acting poorly executed, due to lack of skills or any other of a number of things. But really, often bad acting is something else: it’s someone’s misguided keys of what acting should be. Often it’s mostly superficial.

But what’s “not acting”? I suppose it’s just that. And I nearly find it more boring than bad acting.

[I suspect that there are more than a few people who will take issue with this opinion, but that’s ok, because like most things in theatre and art there are no rules (or very few,) and it’s all subjective.]

When I see an actor on stage doing nothing more than being him or herself….that’s not acting. While we all rely upon our own selves for creating the characters (and really, what else do we have?) to not actually create a character, is not acting. To not create a life of the character, or allow the character’s voice and body and soul to be developed and refined based on the script or the writer or the director or something else is not creating a character and is not acting.

Don’t get me wrong though. I have seen some extremely enjoyable, even engaging performances by John Doe that were nothing more than John Doe being John Doe. But that’s “performance” and not “acting“.

So maybe that’s the ticket. Performance, ie: the behavior exhibited on stage, is not the acting. It’s an element of skill, placed on top of the life of the character for the purposes of, among other things, being heard in the back row. But it’s not acting. And when you don’t have the life of a character, and a goal, and a challenge to that goal against which you are struggling, you’re not living. And if you’re not living on stage, in character, you’re not acting. And if you only have performance without those other things, you’re likely a boring shell of an actor.

So. What’s “not acting”? It’s simply being one’s self.

And, you know? Sometimes that’s all that needed. It’s called standup comedy. It’s called being a commercial spokesman. It’s sometimes called being a model.

It’s not called being an actor.


3 thoughts on “That’s not Acting

  1. Pingback: That’s not Acting (via The Man In The Yellow Hat Lives Here) | belleburr

  2. I’m actually of the school that says “life is acting.” Concepts such as tension and performance are valid on and off the stage. There are roles for us to play on and off the stage in life no matter our profession. Whether or not we feel comfortable in the roles we must play or whether we develop the skill to merely “be” the characters we so desire through emotional manipulation, sense memory, or whatever…is another issue entirely. Just my opinion though 🙂

  3. I understand what you are saying, the idea of an actor on stage not bothering to elevate his performance is just kind of repulsive. But the Self is a necessary ingredient in acting as well as simple performance. The key to making it acting is not a separation from self, it is an elevation. This is especially true for stage. When an actor steps out on stage it is not enough to just be out there saying lines, because people acting as they normally do are just not big enough; the audience can’t see what they are doing. So then it becomes necessary to take those True and Personal elements within and bring them out big enough for the audience to see.

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