Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Seven Ages of Acting

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Seven Ages of Acting

Article excerpt

There are so many good stories about John Gielgud, that I shouldn't be surprised that I am unable to rediscover where I read this one.

I'm quite sure I didn't invent it.

He was to play Angelo in Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure." No longer in the full flush of youth, he had chosen to wear a long blond wig for the part. Everyone else involved in the play felt instinctively that this was a big mistake. But no one plucked up enough gall to tell the great man himself.

Finally, though, news of the wig's absurdity did reach his ears. And then, on stage one day for rehearsal, he suddenly swept the wig off his head, tossed it into the wings and exclaimed (with his inimitably precise enunciation): "Farewell, my youth!"

He then proceeded to play the part boldly and baldly ... and afterward made no attempt to hide his pate.

Many, or most, actors, female and male, do have to deal with the process of gear-shifting through the "seven ages" of man - from childhood prodigy to precocious adolescent, from young adult lead to middle-aged character and from there to the status of "veteran" and "vintage."

Dramatically speaking, it's all part of a rich, varying pattern, all grist for the acting mill. The great ones find ways of turning these stages to their advantage and often blossom into a splendid, if crusty, ripeness.

If you wander around the dim corridors of stage and screen, you soon discover that comedian George Burns had no monopoly on making hay long after the sun usually goes down on less extraordinary and inventive careers.

But what about us amateurs?

When I signed up for my drama class, we were all told to attend an introductory get-together one evening. We were to read a favorite poem and then be sorted into one of three classes: beginners, intermediate, advanced. Held up in traffic, I arrived late. …

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