Welcome to Michael’s ‘Intimate With Strangers’ Page 1
WHAT IS ACTING?
Acting is of all the arts the most purely imitative. In this respect it stands at the opposite
pole from music, with sculpture, painting, poetry, in intermediate positions.
Music deals almost entirely in what may be called sound-patterns, which have no
prototypes in external nature.
Poetry, and indeed all literary art, leans in the same direction. Its matter may or may
not be imitative; its medium must be a more or less rhythmic succession of sounds,
which does not depend for its attractiveness on its resemblance to anything under
Painting, in these latter days, tends more and more to the condition of colour-music,
the very vocabularies of the two arts being, it appears, interchangeable.
Even sculpture without entirely deserting its function, may present a mere arabesque of
curves and surfaces. But acting is imitative or it is nothing. It may borrow from all the arts
in turn - from the arts of speech, of song, of colour, of form; but imitation is its differentia.
Acting is imitation; when it ceases to be imitation it ceases to be acting and becomes
something else - oratory perhaps, perhaps ballet-dancing or posturing. Everyone knows
that the actor is not necessarily a copyist of nature; he may sing, for example, or he may
talk alexandrines; but he must always preserve a similarity in dissimilarity; he must always
imitate; though we may permit him to steep his imitation, so to speak, in a more or less
conventional atmosphere. “He plays naturally,” or, in other words, “He imitates well,”
is our highest formula of praise even for the operatic tenor or the French tragedian,
who may not deliver a single word or tone exactly as it would be uttered in real life.