Acting v. Feeling

drama masks

I am currently matriculated in an MFA program in Production (after already completing an MA program in Film Studies). As part of my directing class we are reading Judith Weston’s Directing Actors. Before going back to school I spent several years in the acting world and it’s interesting approaching it completely from the other side (I have always had one foot in production). I have often myself been plagued by the preconceived notions that actors are not dedicated enough or lack intellect. One story I can’t help but recollect is while working on a soap opera I was sitting in the actor’s green room at the television studio watching President Obama’s first inauguration and while many of us (from the make-up and hair department and other areas) watched with rapt attention, a couple of actors were sitting there chatting about their headshot sessions, completely oblivious to everyone around them engrossed in history being made on the television. It is scenarios like these that make me cringe and deny ever identifying as an actor – but I have found myself lately being very defensive of the clan. For those who aren’t clearly capital (big stars), actors are often  either maligned in the filmmaking world or considered the least important element of a production. As Weston points out in her book:

Directors who have come up from the production side of film may even have a prejudice against actors. There is often a feeling on film and television sets that, compared to the expertise and long hours required of the crew members, what actors do is not really work. After all, anybody who can walk and talk at the same time could do it, right?

Having studied acting for many years (both theatre and film) and working to perfect my craft I know that’s not true and have an incredible respect for those who act well and do so without the trappings of fortune and ego. If only filmmakers en masse had as much respect for the techniques of acting as they do for camera techniques. This book also highlights my second pet peeve which is the idea that acting is not part of the storytelling process but just about “feeling.”

The audience is not drawn to a story by what an actor is feeling but rather by what the character does with the feeling, in other words, what happens next. The audience wants to feel things themselves! That’s what they pay for! It’s not what Jessica Lange is feeling in “Blue Sky” that makes her performance so thrilling; it’s what she is doing. I had an acting teacher who used to exhort us: “You’re actors, damn it – not feelers!”

Thank you Judith Weston!

– Jennifer Dean

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