Acting, the paradox of

Building upon my thoughts in the Revolutionary Road post I have found more discussion about the paradox I have found in contemporary acting: the good actor displays bad acting and bad actors are too realistic.

In the Is Escape Possible? post I referenced an interview between a poet and an artist/director in The Believer where they discuss modern theater.  Christopher Hawkey turns the discussion into one of how theater is boxed off, with boht physical structures and also with norms, from the rest of society.  That maneuver has this paradoxical, he calls it ironic, effect:

[P]erformance art, in order to be taken seriously or to be seen as “real,” is often purposefully bad theate, and, conversely, good theater is often considered bad art. (46)

I am not too sure that there is an escape from this paradox by performance art.  If the audience is brought into the act and expected to behave differently, off the daily script, then the audience needs to know they are in a different sort of performance than the one they expected when entering.  This is where the physical structures of theater are useful, they cue the audience to a different sort of expectations.  Without these structures performance art becomes an Adrian Piper or Vito Acconci replicant.  Not to say these are without value, but they did not look for ‘audience’ interaction of the type most performers do.

Back to theater though.  The movie screen is clearly a physical change allowing the audience to adopt a different script.  Why then do we change our expectations of the performers?  Why do we allow good performers to act unrealistically and why do we call a realistic performance a bad one (see my example of paroxysm for an example)?  The separation between the audience and non-audience is already well established, why then do we need the non-physical barriers?

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One thought on “Acting, the paradox of

  1. Rebecca

    not sure what you are saying about performance art here, and especially the use of Acconci. Acconci’s pieces don’t exist without audience interaction; the audience listening, being intrigued/disgusted, chasing him through sounds under the floorboard, etc. Have you read Amelia Jones’ book? She has a great chapter on Acconci and others of the same ilk in “Body Art/performing the Subject”.

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