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R. Bruce Kelsey THE ACTOR'S REPRESENTATION: GESTURE, PLAY, AND LANGUAGE Theatrical performance utilizes various sorts of representation. Of these, the representation that is acting is the most intriguing and problematical. An actor does not merely stand in for the character: he must revitalize the dead letter of the script and invest himself with the emotions, ideas, and movements of the character to whatever extent his own sensibilities, the director's plan for the production, and the play's style permit. The actor is a technician who has mastered his corporeal and vocal instrument; but he is also the medium for the realization of a spirit not his own. Although we speak of acting as an interpretation of a part, I think we would be wrong to see the actor as an interpres, as one who goes between two parties. For he is not a messenger who brings to the spectator the words of the playwright, or the words of some quasi-historical personage that shares his character's name: those words must be his and he must be the character. The actor's representation is closer to a fusion of horizons than it is to a mere substitution of one man for another. I am aware that this is a very large claim, and I shall try to defend only one aspect of it here.1 My main concern will be to examine, from a phenomenological perspective, the process by which an actor works up a part. I want to suggest that the actor discovers the durability and coherence of his part when he transcends the technical maneuvers by which he initially composes his representation and enters into that special attitude Hans-Georg Gadamer calls Spiel (play, game-playing). The actor supplies, as it were, the limbs and torso for the mind of the character and in so doing effects a fusion of horizons — his own personal horizon and that of the character as the author has presented it and the actor has understood it. In maintaining this position, I shall take issue with several American texts on directing and acting, and, to a lesser extent, with Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty, upon whose work much of my argument is based. To my mind, directing and acting texts often see the actor as a marionette controlled by the director's blocking and by theatrical conventions, or as some trickster who combines a few con67 68Philosophy and Literature ventional gestures with a motion here and a quarter turn there and thus gets the audience to laugh or cry.2 In Truth and Method, Gadamer briefly mentions that he thinks the actor's intention is to deceive, and on that basis he appears to deny that the actor is involved in Spiel,3 while Merleau-Ponty, in Phenomenology of Perception, indicates that he does not believe that the actor "throws himself" into his movements but instead "extricates" himself from his "living situation" in order to move and speak in the realm of the imagination.* On the contrary, I shall suggest that through the fusion ofhorizons, the actor's representation is the incarnation of another's authentic, or in Merleau-Ponty's words "concrete," movements. As incarnation, acting cannot be understood as deception. We can establish the plausibility of a fusion of the horizons of actor and character by focusing on one means used by directors and actors to generate better character portrayals — the physical gesture. I have chosen the gesture for two reasons. First, it serves to remind us of the kind of fusion we are dealing with. Acting is not an exercise in analytical understanding, nor is it a flight of the imagination: it takes place in an actor's body, through an actor's voice, on a specific stage, and with other actors. Minimally, the fusion must occur between the actor's instrument and the character's sensibility.5 Second, a close examination of the gesture reveals that in developing a character there are forces at work over which the actor has no control — in fact, he may not even be aware of them. To the extent that this is so, it undercuts the view that the actor is a...


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