Actio! Actio! Actio! European Acting Techniques in Historical Perspective
This symposium, from 5 until 7 December, reflects on issues of propriety, emotion and virtuosity on the European stage, both past and present. Through lectures and performance, historical texts as thespian provocations are addressed; words are not seen as mere thoughts, but as catalysts to histrionic display.
Actio! Actio! Actio!
The story of Demosthenes’ transformation from a much-mocked to a much-admired orator is well-known: he emerged from his ‘subterranean study’—after dedicated and rigorous physical training—a master of delivery. His diligence was spurred by the realization that a performance that was not only powerful, but also graceful and dignified, ‘could carry all before it.’ The pre-20th-century actor’s moving, declaiming body, flashing eyes and graceful hands hearkened back to the ancient Greek’s good example, for as Gilbert Austin re-told the tale in his Chironomia (1806): ‘When Demosthenes was asked, what was the first requisite in speaking, he answered, that delivery was the first, that it was the second, and that it was the third.’ Actio! Actio! Actio!
This symposium reflects on issues of propriety, emotion and virtuosity on the European stage, both past and present. Through lectures and performance, we address historical texts as thespian provocations; we see words not as mere thoughts, but as catalysts to histrionic display. While proposing a return of art and artifice to the actor’s craft, we welcome debate: can we revive a démodé, brightly-feathered, sweet-song’d (and sometimes double-tongued) tradition—a tradition that stretches back to Demosthenes—whose wings have been clipped by the modernist shears of 20th-century naturalism?
And if we can…should we do so, just because we can?