Identifying and classifying different approaches to acting in selected devised theatre productions

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Nortier, Christelle
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University of the Free State
From a ‘postmodern theatre’¹ perspective, the tendency among most when creating theatre on stage is often more toward devised theatre than a conventional theatre product. This study will focus on identifying and classifying different approaches to acting in selected devised theatre productions. This research’s primary point of departure was to determine the autogenous characteristics of each method of acting and to discover which acting style/styles work best or are most applicable to the devised theatre. ‘Conventional theatre’ follows a set number of acts. Generally, it adheres to Aristotle's theory of plot structure from the fourth century BC (335 BC), with actors reading dialogue on a thrust or proscenium stage. The genre and style of where the text originated are predetermined or suggested in the playwright's mind. Therefore, the director, as well as the actors, have a blueprint of what the play is intended to look like and how it played out during the process of creation by the playwright. This intent is reflected in various ways. Firstly, it is reflected in the dramatist's notes on acting, writing, characters, costumes, locality, stage lighting, and stage directions (Oddey, 1996:16). Horace approaches poetry from a practical standpoint instead of Aristotle's theoretical approach. Around 19 BC, ‘Ars Poetica’ of Horace is considered a core component of rhetoric literacy through his use of satires, epistles, and odes. ‘Ars Poetica’ attempts to create a sense of probability and coherence regarding artistic representation, including diction, dramatic characterisation, meter, poetic inventiveness, and the intended impact (Hajdu, 2014:28-42). In 1863, Freytag's technique allowed studies to visually examine a narrative and acknowledge the plot drama, similar to Aristotle's Poetics (335 BC). His plot is divided into five sections: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. (Hajdu, 2014:28-42). In contrast to conventional theatre, ‘devised theatre’ (frequently labelled as ‘collective theatre’) is an approach to theatre-making in which the text or (if it is a predominantly physical theatre-based work) performance outcome develops from collaboration, often through a performing group's improvisatory work (Oddey, 1996:1-4). The study of devised theatre and the exploration of various acting approaches can be linked by examining how postmodernism, a movement that questions established norms and cultural values, has influenced the evolution of theatre practices. Devised theatre, emphasising collaborative and improvisatory work, embodies the postmodern ethos of deconstructing and reconstructing traditional theatrical elements, including acting techniques. This intersection between postmodernism and devised theatre highlights the dynamic nature of contemporary theatre-making, where a diverse range of acting methods, from Stanislavski's realism to Brecht's epic theatre, can be adapted and integrated into this innovative and collaborative approach to creating performances. The approaches to acting, which will form the basis of the theoretical conceptualisation of this study, are based on the writings of Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), Sanford Meisner (1905-1997), and Michel Saint-Denis (1897-1971) on classical acting, (between the late 1800s and early 1900s), David Mamet (1947) and William H. Macy (1950-1984) on practical aesthetics, Lee Strasberg (1901-1982) on method acting and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), specifically on the Brechtian method (1964). Three analytical case studies will be undertaken to analyse the applied acting methods to construct a reasonably mapped process that suits devised theatre best. The study contributes to the academic discussions concerning devised theatre and approaches to acting methods. The study also constructs an analytical framework for case study analysis, which could be employed by future studies that embark on similar studies or practitioners who aim to produce devised theatre productions within a contemporary, postmodern context. The research aims to identify and classify different approaches to acting in selected devised theatre productions. This study's fundamental starting point is to identify each acting technique's autogenous traits and ascertain which acting style(s) or styles operate best in or are most appropriate for improvised theatre. The study believes that devised theatre uses a combination of different acting approaches. By conducting three analytical case studies, the study proposes to evaluate the hypothesis to arrive at a conclusion either in favour or opposed to this statement.
Dissertation (M.A. (Drama and Theatre Studies))--University of the Free State, 2023
Acting styles, devised theatre, Aristotle, Horace, Freytag, practical aesthetics, improvisation, classical acting, method acting, Brechtian method