“All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” (William Shakesphere)
If the above quote were true, then we would all be actors and actresses. Sadly we’re not. Instead, the history books are filled with the details of iconic plays, films, and television programs, studios and theatres, and of course the writers and performers who brought the work to stage and screen.
Acting has a rich and varied history, though early records rely more on hearsay than accurate written accounts. Acting has certainly been around since Greek and Roman times, where much of it revolved around religious worshipping through poetry and dancing. Non religious acting soon followed, with an actor called ‘Thespis’ introducing impersonation, whilst others performed with masks, and took on several characters in a production.
Comic acting also has ancient roots, although it was often seen as a ‘low’ form of entertainment, due to its reliance on crude jokes and physical actions. In later years it grew in stature, with the development of ‘Commedia Dell’Arte’ proving popular in 16th century Italy. Actors learnt to improvise to fill out plot lines, and each performance would include short sections of stunts, witty commentary, and other ‘comic business’.
Since then, there have been many developments in acting techniques and theatre in general, notably Shakespearean/Elizabethan Theatre, which favoured portraying characters with complex emotions. Although William Shakespeare is probably one of the most famous playwrights of all time, there are others who contributed to the development of acting. Stanislavsky, a Russian director, was an early pioneer of method acting, and there were other famous writers too, including JM Barrie, Noel Coward, Victor Hugo, Alan Bennett, and Tennessee Williams. Their work and techniques have lived on through many generations, and is still studied in English and Drama courses throughout the world.
It wasn’t just people that had an impact on acting though, but modern technology as well. The late 19th century was a period of great invention in the media industry, as interested parties discovered ways images could be projected and recorded, and combined vision and motion tools to create cinematography. The cinema/film industry has a history all of its own, covering everything from the silent films and Charlie Chaplin slapstick of the early 1900’s, to the first ‘storytelling’ film around 1905, and the multi million dollar epics we see today. Film, combined with the later invention of television, created different forms of screen acting, along with modern ‘stars’ and writing talent.
What about you though? Do you have an interest in acting? If so, there are many ways you can get involved, and make acting either a rewarding and creative hobby, or a profession. A good actor/actress is traditionally seen as someone with a certain degree of confidence, who also has the ability to listen and work within a team. If this sounds like you, then there are community/amateur theatre companies across the U.K who welcome people of all ages and backgrounds. These groups and other youth based workshops/summer schools usually offer not only acting opportunities, but the chance to explore lighting, set design, costumes and other backstage/technical activities too.
In terms of work, employment as a film and T.V extra is also an option, and doesn’t require any prior acting experience. Entertainment/Modelling/Casting agencies, sometimes look for applicants with certain skills like driving or acrobatics, at other times they will simply sign up people for crowd scenes, who will blend into the background in a production.
Although acting talent can win over experience and qualifications, any study will help your chances of a career in the industry. Courses are taught through normal schools at GCSE and A-Level. There are also specialist theatre schools, such as the famous Italia Conti and Silvia Young Schools in London. Graduates leave these schools with a general education, specialist training, and usually some work experience in theatre, T.V. or film. Higher level acting courses will study voice and movement in more depth, and cover the different stage and screen modules. These include method and character acting, Shakespeare, television drama, and television adverts. Towards the end of any course, students will also receive advice on agents and directors, taxes, and acting unions, to prepare them for the working world. Post graduates can take further courses to qualify them to teach in the profession.
As actor Kenneth Haigh once said “You need three things in the theatre. The play, the actors and the audience, and each must give something.”
So now the question is, what will you give to acting?