2008 acting2
Broadway Tickets
Lion King Tickets
Spamalot Tickets
Wicked Tickets
Odd Couple Tickets
[ advertising space : webmaster ]

Fall 2004:


index * Parts: I * II * III * IV * V * Books * BioMechanics I * Biomechanics II * Directing * Script Analysis * Method Acting for Directors * SHOWS * Theatre Theory * Film * SPECTATOR * Virtual Theatre * amazon.com *




The origins of acting are in the act of remembering. Acting may have begun as early as 4000 BC when Egyptian actor-priests worshipped the memory of the dead. The first nonreligious professional acting may possibly have developed in China. Players there kept alive the memory of the triumph of the current emperor's ancestors over the former dynasty. Acting has remained an art of remembering to the present day, when actors rely on their memories of emotions and sense experiences to perform a reenactment of those feelings on stage.


Drama in Greece began with festivals honoring Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. Part of these religous ceremonies included sexual orgies and rampant drunkeness. (Which might explain why Greek drama became so popular.) Eventually the orgies and drunkness were phased out but the ceremonies to honor Dionysus continued to flourish. Aristotle tells us that these rituals were primarily danced at first, but by 534 B.C. we have the first definitive record of "acted" drama in Greece.

Another interesting feature of the acting experience was the fact that different actors might play the same character at different points in the play, since there were only three speaking actors and many roles. Dramatists appear to have written their plays as they wished with little or no concern for how the performance was to be accomplished from a technical standpoint, even though the author was almost always the director as well.

The Greeks developed acting schools, the first actors’ guild, invented the "star" system, and treated actors as highly respected, even cherished members of society. But this social status was not to be enjoyed by actors for very long.


... By 354 A.D. the Roman calendar included 175 official holidays. USA?

Unlike Greek society, actors in Rome were at the bottom of the social ladder. In fact, theatre managers, such as Ambivious Turpio, used slaves as actors in virtually all of his productions. Roman citizens were not allowed to act, and anyone who defied the law would lose his civil rights. A soldier who appeared on stage would be put to death immediately. The Romans had no restrictions on women, and in fact, seemed to particularly fancy female dancers, some of whom became mistresses of senators and generals, or ultimately earned enough money to buy their freedom.

What the Romans lacked in their contribution to written drama, they more than made up for in their technical innovations. Rome was a triumph of engineering, and their theatres were magnificent. Whereas the Greeks used little or no scenery in their productions, the Romans developed elaborate machinery to create stage effects. Their technical achievements didn’t stop with the staging of plays, it extended to the audience seating area as well. Roman engineers were masters of controlling water and it is believed that some form of "air-conditioning" may have existed in some Roman theatres. In at least one case, audiences were treated to an extremely fine mist of water mixed with perfume and piped to "sprinklers" overhead. And while many giant amphitheaters were constructed, sometimes seating as many as 80,000, the Romans also built more intimate stages with capacities around 1,500, much closer to our modern standard. Some of these extraordinary buildings were temporary in nature, including one that was three stories high, supported by 60 columns and featured numerous statues, all of which were torn down after less than a week of performances! One remarkable theatre featured a "swiveling" audience area so that after watching a play the seats were turned around and a gladiator fight was presented at the opposite end of auditorium.

The Middle Ages

Actors were usually paid for their efforts, sometimes based on the amount of dialogue they would have to memorize, and sometimes based on the respectability of the character they were portraying. An actor playing God would almost always receive the highest salary, while someone playing the devil could count on very slight pay, even though the role was quite large and demanding. As with the Greeks, most of the roles were played by men, although sometimes women were used in very large casts. An actor who did a poor job or misbehaved during the production in any way would forfeit his salary and probably have to pay a fine as well. (An interesting concept that doesn’t seem to have taken root.) Many actors were also expected to provide their own costumes and make-up, although this varied from place to place.

The Renaissance

was sparked by several world events and a gradual shift away from religion as the centerpiece of life and social activity. When Canstantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 it sent a wave of scholars fleeing to the West and bringing with them the manuscripts of Greek drama and literature. This, combined with the development of the printing press led to an incredible revival of interest in anything classical. Greek and Roman plays were mass produced and studied by scholars everywhere. With so much attention being paid to these printed dramas it is not surprising that people would eventually want to stage them, as well.

The Camerata Academy in Florence was fascinated by the use of music in Greek plays and by the end of 16th century they had created their own form of music theatre called opera, in which all of the dialogue was set to music. It Italy it caused a sensation and soon opera spread throughout the world, especially taking root in France and Germany.

The second great achievement of the Italian Renaissance was a unique form of improvisational theatre known as commedia dell’arte. ("Arte" signified that the actors were professional artists.) The commedia was entirely centered around the skill of the actor. No script was used in performance, only a scenario that outlined the basic plot. Actors had some "stock" monologues and bits of stage business that they would frequently employ at key moments, but the bulk of the action was improvised. And unlike other forms of drama which played to specific audiences, the commedia was enjoyed by kings and commoners alike.

There were three basic "types" of characters in each play. Lovers, masters and servants. Within each of these sets were standard characters who always wore the same costume and mask, and had the same name, although the lovers were usually known by their real names. An actor who played a character, such as the servant Harlequin, would usually play that same character for life, even passing the role on to his descendants.

The first theatre with a permanent proscenium arch was built in Italy in 1618 and great developments in stage technology took place around the world. Plays could now have numerous scene changes and costumes became increasingly more realistic. The desire for spectacle and pageantry still existed and many plays included elaborate special effects and very large casts, but as theatre moved indoors it moved much closer to the experience we know today.


In Elizabethan drama of the late 16th and early 17th centuries in England, actors faced the problem of portraying not types but individuals. The characters of Shakespeare demand an understanding by the actor of the motives, the psychology that determines the action. Elizabethan acting was probably not "realistic" in the modern sense. The emphasis was still on admirable vocal delivery and choice of gestures appropriate to the poet's words.

Part 1—Matching—Write the capital letter for the person at the end of his or her description. Of course, some people will have many descriptions, so some of the letters will be used more than once. Each question counts three points, so this section counts sixty-nine points.

Steele MacKay 
Aaron Hill 
François Delsarte 
Polis Dionysia 
Paul Sills 
He/She wrote books on improvisation and revolutionized theatre games with books like Improvisation for the Theatre. _____

He was a Roman Rhetoric teacher whose methods were used to instruct orators who worked for lawyers. _____

He/She wrote An Actor Prepares. _____

This is a modern word that means “actor.” _____

He/She wanted to be a great singer, but lost his voice. _____

He/She wanted to be a great singer, but decided very young that he was simply not very good. _____

He/She was the Greek god of wine and revelry. _____

He/She is known for bringing the work of Delsarte to America. _____

He/She is considered the Western World’s first actor. _____

This term describes a theatre festival that was held in Athens, Greece. _____

He/She was one of the best-known playwrights to emerge from the Moscow Art Theatre. _____

His/Her techniques were used from Roman times until the early European Renaissance. _____

He/She wrote The Sea Gull, which was the first highly successful play produced by the Moscow Art Theatre. _____

He/She worked with Stanislavski in creating the Moscow Art Theatre. _____

He/She believed that, while natural emotions are sincere, they are not artistic. _____

He/She proposed that there are only ten dramatic passions. _____

He/She is known for saying, “Nothing is more deplorable than a gesture without a motive.” _____

Although He/She still believed in stylized gestures, the action became less audience-directed and became more character-directed. _____

Since He/She believed that exterior motion effects emotion, his/her stylized gestures were designed to bring about emotion rather than to fake emotion. _____

He/She founded the American Academy of Dramatic Art. _____

He/She set out to observe people and every possible emotion. _____

His mother revolutionized improvisation in America and he continues this work today. _____

His early credits include performing with the Alexeyev Circle, a family-run theatre group. _____

Part Two—Short Answer—Fill in the blank or completely answer the question. Each of these counts five points, so the section counts twenty points.

Picasso defined art as “the lie that reveals _______________________________.”

Recall the beliefs of classical societies and the graph we drew of the connections among elements, fluids, emotions, and humors. Explain as completely as possible how the body fluids affect the emotions and how the emotions affect the humour.

List three things Stanislavski and the man who helped him create the MAT considered negative about Russian theatre before 1900.

Why did Stanislavski drop out of the Moscow drama school?

Explain the limits of using a mirror to practice, remember, and represent emotions.

Part Three—Completely answer this question. This section counts ten points, so I’m obviously expecting a more involved answer.

Explain the difference between presentational and representational acting.

Include in your answer the reasons that each method appeal(ed) to the periods when they are (were) used. You should also explain which one is more audience-directed (or audience-centered) and which is more character-directed (or character-centered).

rate Film-North * Anatoly Antohin * eCitations *
© 2005 by vtheatre.net. Permission to link to this site is granted. books.google.com + scholar.google.com Acting2
Acting amazon

act home: archive * new * guide * appendix * glossary * links * list * popup * faq * books * biblio * references * notes * webmaster * blog * keywords * swicki * flickr * acthome * virtual theatre domains * contents * store * acting swicki *
See who's visiting this page.