- Acting (Re)Considered
Phillip Zarrilli’s stimulating anthology Acting (Re)considered is a compilation of essays by various authors, drawn mainly, but not exclusively, from The Drama Review. Some may ask, why reprint old articles? Yet Zarilli contextualizes the essays so as to chronicle the growth of various psychophysical approaches to acting. In the book’s three sections, “Theories and Meditations on Acting,” “(Re)considering the Body and Training,” and “(Re)considering the Actor in Performance,” Zarrilli deploys the twenty-four essays to examine acting process as a sociocultural phenomenon. His point is that the dependence of American actors and acting teachers on psychological realism’s narrative closure of character and truth is unsuited for theatre which now favors the ambiguities of presence. In Zarilli’s view, mind and body are currently separated by psychological approaches to acting in which mind dominates body; he advocates instead for a “bodymind” in which there is no mediation between the two (15, 183).
Zarrilli repositions acting outside of humanist traditions by introducing the reader not to Torstov/Everyactor, but to himself, an American theatre academic troubled by common misconceptions about acting. In “Introduction to Part I,” he tells of the undergraduate actor who, when confronted by an acting teacher’s remark, “I don’t think you believe what you are doing” (9), becomes confused. Zarrilli’s sympathy is with the student and not the teacher employing a version of Stanislavski’s famous “I don’t believe you.” He questions the “‘truth’ claims” of the language of acting which focus on the mental process of determining truth while ignoring the physical process of embodiment (9).
Unfortunately, Part I does not fulfill its theoretical project. Excluding Zarrilli’s introduction, there are only three essays on theory. Bert States’s “The Actor’s Presence: Three Phenomenal Modes,” actually examines the relationship between actor and audience, not acting. Michael Kirby’s “On Acting and Not Acting,” is more pertinent, but his predilection for happenings and performance art do not engage process. Neither States nor Kirby substantially initiate the important discourse on technique. But the book’s organizing theme, the assertion of the actor’s presence and rejection of psychological realism’s stubborn preoccupation with truth and self, is well articulated in Phillip Auslander’s essay “‘Just Be Yourself,’” which interrogates methods [End Page 400] based on self-reflection and self-representation. Auslander posits that any method limits representation to a self contained within its own logic. Methods driven by the assumption of a universal self create ontological and mimetic limitations which prevent an actor from representing that which sets him or her apart from others. He shows that the reliance on self from Stanislavski to Grotowski ignores a central paradox of mimesis, which is that there is little to nothing left of the self by the time it imitates or is imitated. By allowing the nostalgia for truth and self to slip in status and be supplanted by a yearning for presence, Auslander enables Zarrilli to (re)consider acting from psychophysical perspectives rather than a psychological perspective.
Part II, which contains the majority of essays, presents a wide range of psychophysical techniques. Some essays do not fit Zarrilli and Auslander’s negation of truth and self. Deirdre Sklar’s “Etienne Decroux’s Promethean Mime” invokes Prometheus as a “summarizing key symbol” (109), thereby universalizing truths. Sears Eldridge and Hollis Huston’s “Actor Training in the Neutral Mask” focuses on the role of self in establishing neutrality because, according to the Copeau school, “one cannot avoid being oneself” (123). I. Wayan Lendra’s “Bali and Grotowski: Some parallels in the training process” describes the trance state induced in both Balinese ritual and Grotowski’s Objective Drama Project at University of California-Irvine. The purpose of this trance state is to achieve “true self” (141). Ian Watson documents Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret’s early acrobatic and kathakali training and more recent autodidactism. In his own essay, “On the edge of a breath looking,” Zarrilli borrows from Barba, Copeau and Asian martial arts to forge a...