Chapter 3

Acting and athletics

Accepting, then, the fact that theatre is a living art; constantly on the move even while it is being framed; whose spontaneity is part of its very attraction; and whose mirroring of the multifarious parts of life makes it impossible to trap and objectify as the semioticians would wish: what can we look at in our attempt to say what acting is?

Well, the actor's body is the fundamental sign. When it is there it is looked at, and when it moves it attracts the audience's attention. And it is the way in which that body moves that communicates the nature of the action to the audience. Drama, Aristotle told us, is the imitation of an action. Not the imitation of an emotion or of a psyche, but of an action, and we recognize the nature of that action by its physical form. The impulse to action may be emotional or psychological, but the expression of it, to be communicable, must be in an enacted form. Now it is true that action and activity in the sense of movement are not necessarily the same. As we saw in the previous sections, because of the frame, to do nothing on stage is an action, or to use the semiotician's term, a sign. It is, in fact, one of the more difficult things for an actor to do well, both because there is no apparent focus of concentration outside the actor, and because of the need for intensity of energy to keep the audience's interest in the motionless figure. Consequently, there is very little time on stage when doing nothing can be sustained for long; movement, the performance of some kind of activity which creates an action, tends to be the norm.

The actor's body in movement, playing actions, making points, is fundamental to theatre. Bodies in movement, playing their kind

-19-

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