Reflections II (Nora)

Public theaters in Germany tend to work differently when it comes to their actors. It seems as though directors expect their actors to just do whatever they tell them to do and just let them work on their characters on their own. Character work is essential, in my opinion, but maybe in Germany that’s the dramaturge’s job: to analyze the play and the characters and to  talk to the actors about it.

However, it amazes me how German actors from public acting schools (the „crème de la crème“) seem to be reduced to so called ‚stage officials’.

When I think of the two plays we have seen so far (Wildente and Maß für Maß), it appears to me that it doesn’t really matter to the director whether the characters on stage are authentic and realistic or not. In fact, the actors’ performances in Measure for Measure seemed to be somehow shallow and static on purpose.  Vinz and I discussed why this could be the case:

If a character in a play has many different levels concerning his/her personality, like – let’s say Abigail in Arthur Miller’s The crucible, and the actress tries to really get in touch with her ambiguous emotions and „becomes“ Abigail using various acting methods and connecting Abigail’s motives to her own personality, her performance will be brilliant. However, if Abigail becomes a person we could meet everyday, her character might leave less room for the audience to project their own thoughts, feelings and desires onto the figure on stage. If the actress playing Abigail just goes with what she feels in the very scene without thinking too much about what makes her a ‘round’ character, her performance could become less intense and complex, but maybe it leaves room for whatever the audience wants to see in her. What I’m trying to say is, that, if a character’s all thought through and analyzed on stage, we cannot connect as easily with him/her as, if the character’s just a cover for people’s own desires.

This idea comes from literary theories, where the definition of a well-written text is conjured due to the space it leaves for the reader’s imagination. With space I mean parts that aren’t explained and, thus, the reader’s life experience and his/her expectations of the text fill in the missing parts. Consequently, a text is in constant change, depending on who reads it and when it’s read. Although the words don’t change the meaning of them varies all the time.

In my opinion, a theater performance can be compared to a text and there should always be room for interpretation (and I don’t mean just the rational analyzing of the play, but also the sensual interpretation that takes place on a subconscious level). However, this doesn’t mean that the characters needn’t be authentic – on the contrary: the actors need to know, or at least feel, how the characters they play work. Also, I wonder if the depth of a character is decided as soon as the text is written, or if an actor can actually give a character more meaning than he/she has when you just read his/her lines and not see a person being the character on stage. Can a well-written text become bad because of bad acting and performing? And are actors able to change bad writing by giving the hell of a performance?

When I think about measure for measure,  I get the feeling that they (the directors/the actors) have left too much room for interpretation. I found it hard to connect with the characters and, although the performance made me think about the main subject of the play, and I started analyzing the meaning of it and its topicality in our world, I still missed the “catharsis”-feeling that, in my opinion, is essential if you want a play/text to really get to your bones. So, to sum this long reflection up: There has to be both: Room for projections and interpretations (I guess this mainly is the writer’s task) and authentic and round characters on stage.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections II (Nora)

  1. I think you are absolutely right when you say that leaving room for projections and interpretations is mainly the writer’s job. One of a playwright’s trickiest tasks is to write plays that are both specific and universal. Without specificity, a play feels artificial, and it’s hard to stay engaged. How much more boring would Hamlet’s “Alas, poor Yorick” speech be if, instead of talking about his specific and intensely personal childhood memory of playing with the court jester, he was just speculating about general deaths and all-too-short lives? And yet it also is general; Shakespeare earns Hamlet’s philosophical reflections on death by tying them to something specific and tangible.

    Playwrights have to find a delicate balance between universality and specificity. Even the vagueness of Waiting for Godot is specific (in Didi and Gogo’s wants, in their stories about their pasts). Even Pinter is specific.

  2. Yes,
    I agree.
    I think that as soon as you understood this about writing, you’re on the right track. Doesn’t mean it’ll get easier. On the contrary: it gets more and more difficult – and exciting.
    🙂

    I’m on my way.

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