Welcome to Michael’s ‘Intimate With Strangers’ Page 10
CAN ACTING BE TAUGHT?
Ladies and gentlemen, I feel very much flattered indeed to see before me such an
assembly, and more particularly as I have seen on the plan that it is mainly composed
of my fellow members and colleagues of our profession. I am glad that they have so
great an interest in questions that we are about today to discuss. I am not going to give
you a lecture in any sense, much less to keep you to hear me speak on every form of
Nobody could do that in an hour, or an hour and a quarter. All of you know that perfectly
well. All I have to do today is to explain how acting can be taught and I hope you will
agree with me before the end, that this is the way acting should be taught. There was,
you are aware, a few weeks ago, a lively discussion with regard to the establishment of
a permanent school.
There was one project that was put forward by members of our own profession. I say
of our own profession, because I know I am addressing actors and actresses, my
colleagues and my fellow students. That project was dropped, suspended, put aside
because certain good patrons of the drama had organized another project and pushed
it forward with a great deal of energy. During this discussion certain influential members
of the public press-graciously taking as they have always done, great interest in the art
dramatic-in their editorials pronounced their opinion that acting could not be taught;
that it was not an art at all; that it was a gift; that it was the effusion of enthusiasm; that,
in point of fact, actors, like poets, were born, not made.
Now that appeared to me to place our art below that of a handicraft, for no art becomes
respectable or respected until its principles, its tenets, and its precepts are recognized,
methodised, and housed in a system. If it be said that we cannot teach a man to be a
genius, that we cannot teach him to be talented, that is simply a fact; but I ask you
in any art what great men, like, far example, Michelangelo, Landseer, Murillo,
would have existed if some kind of art had not preceded them by which they learned the
art of, say mixing colours, the principles of proportion, and the principles of perspective.
Where would Shakespeare have been if he had accidentally and unfortunately been
born in some remote region at the plough-tail, where there was not within his reach the
drama school of Stratford-on-Avon? He would have perished at the plow-tail and have
been buried in a furrow, and we should never have known it. You must absolutely have
principles in all arts.
You cannot produce your own thoughts, your own feelings, unless you have same
principles as some guide, some ground. I am not an eloquent man. I am simply an actor,
an author, one who is in the habit of giving speeches to others, and supplying speeches
for others, rather than delivering speeches myself.
Well, this is, as l have said a large subject. I cannot do more in an hour than just skim
the surface. I can, as Newton said, but wander on the shore of the great ocean and pick
up the shells. I can but give you enough to make you understand what our art is, its
philosophic principles; that a good actor is not due to accident, that a man is not born to
be an actor unless he is trained.
Acting is not mere speech! It’s not taking the dialogue of the author and giving it
artistically, but sometimes not articulately. Acting is to perform, to be the part; to be it in
your arms, your legs; to be what you are acting, to be it all over, that is acting.