Sunday, January 15, 2012
As Actors Prepare, so Should Critics Learn
Every once in awhile I like to listen to a bunch of James Lipton’s interviews with theatre and film people, mostly actors. They’re all over YouTube; just google “Inside the Actors Studio.” I’ve been doing so this weekend.
What I enjoy is the nitty-gritty sense of craft, of what actors do to prepare a role. For example, in this interview, starting at roughly 17:30 or so, Jeremy Irons talks about playing twin brothers in Dead Ringers about playing twin brothers in Dead Ringers (a film I’ve not seen):
He says that, in order to differentiate the two, he thought in terms of “energy point” (his term), acting one brother from the forehead and the other from the throat—but, note, that Irons didn’t use those terms. Rather, he pointed to the points on his body. I don’t know whether or not he was using “energy point” as a synonym for “chakra,” but I’d guess the idea is the same. In any event, his remark was immediately and intuitive to me, perhaps because I’m a musician and, as such, understand something of what’s involved in performing.
Whatever you think, however you think, it all MUST come out in how you use your body. Performance is physical. It’s easy enough to talk about embodiment—such talk has been fashionable in a number of disciplines for over a decade—but you can’t merely talk a performance. You must execute it.
More and more I think listening to such interviews could be more important for academic literary critics than learning philosophy or psychology or even literary theory. That’s all abstract, learning it always moves you away from the work, from the text, off into greedy meaning and abstraction. That’s easy and, at this point, it’s in the way of making intellectual progress.
Critics need a much stronger sense of literature as craft, of texts as things constructed, to precise and rigorous, if flexible, standards. Listening to good actors talk about their craft, and figuring out how to take such talk seriously, deeply, that might begin pushing our minds in the right direction.