Chapter 1

Acting and the phenomenological problem

Discussion of the acting process usually resolves itself into the received dichotomy of emotion versus technique. This dialogue goes back at least as far as Diderot, who gave it a first complete examination in his Le Paradoxe sur le comédien (1830). 1 Most recently it has been illustrated by the conflict, dear to the journalists of the 1940s and 1950s, between 'feelers' and 'nonfeelers'; adherents, mostly Americans, of the 'Method', and those, said to be British, who supposedly based their technique on physical and verbal skills alone.

The debate derives its force from the phenomenological fact that an actor has, in a sense, to be both himself and someone else at the same time. This kind of paradox is dear to the academic mind and, while it has more truth in philosophy than praxis-unlike philosophers and literary critics, actors are obliged to make a specific choice in the moment of action-yet in the realm of language it is a problem. And it is in language that we are obliged to discuss the nature of acting. Clearly, we do not find it impossible to talk about a play: we say that such and such a performance was good or bad; such and such a design worked or didn't. But what are our criteria for judgement? Is there such a thing as acting per se-the Ding an sich? Can it, in the theatre, ever be divorced from characterization, for example? Do we not always see the actor as a character? We acknowledge this at the end of the performance; we applaud the actors for their skill and art in playing the characters. We are especially aware of this skill if we happen to know the play, if the role is a famous one, if we have our own conception of it. Here we will tend to have not just a paradox but

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