Monday, 7 August 2006

What is acting then?

More ponderings about acting...

I was cruising around the net looking through casting and audition notice websites, and I came across a forum for actors connected to a casting site. There was a thread on the forum discussing whether or not one should include "extra" or "background" work on one's CV.

The general consensus was yes, but only until you have a few better jobs to put down, then you remove the extras from the list. And you should put the title of a character - eg "restaurant patron", "sailor" - not just "extra".

However, some of the other responses really bothered me; they said "No. Background work is not acting." Simple as that.

Well, why not? What's the definition of acting? Isn't it something like portraying a character in an established scene to help create a story... or something... seems to me an extra is doing that. In a small way, yes, but not insignificant. The extra still needs to be "in character". It's not like you can just grab anyone and plop them into a scene without any explanation of who they could be, and expect it to turn out the same as when you give the extras characters and objectives (even if it's just "you're a customer, you want a coffee").

Okay, this is better. The Oxford Dictionary defines "act" as carry out (an incident or story) in mimicry, represent, perform a play or part; personate (character in a play or life); perform actions...

So, perhaps those objectors simply meant that extra work isn't skilled acting, and therefore not worth telling anyone about. After all, you don't need a whole bunch of training or experience to just act like a normal person in the background. (That, actually, kinda puts another hole in the argument because in a lot of instances the extras arent' normal people at all - they're mutant pirates or primitve cannibals or space-people from a different universe. Those things ouwld take at least a little bit of skill and effort.)

I suppose what it would boil down to is the opinion of each different casting person or director on the relevance of an actor's extra work. Some might appreciate that you're just starting out (hey, everyone starts out) and are at least doing something to get yourself out there. Others, I hear, can be quite snobby about "extra" actors, as if they're a whole different breed from "role" actors, and never the twain shall meet. That is sometimes true, of course, because plenty of people work as extras and have no desire for featured roles. So I guess, really, like so much of this silly business of ours... it's a lot about who you know, not what you know. You might be at an audition and come across a director who says "wow, you've been working hard on all these extras gigs, good to find someone who's happy to do the hard work, I like you." Or you might just get "only extra parts hey? Hmmm..... next!"

Fickle. That's what it is.

I love the word fickle. It sounds like one of my daughter's made-up words.

In related news... I've decided I won't sign up with that agency that does extra/commercial work. I'll put myself into Showcast etc, freelance it for a few more months and then, later in the financial year, do the rounds of the agents again. I'd still be happy to do some extra work or TVCs while I'm starting out but I don't want to give anyone the impression that I'll be happy to stick with that kind of work.

Right at the moment, though, anything that pays would be wonderful.


Connor said...

My experience is more geared towards theater than film, but I like your assessment of the subjectivity of "skilled," and I've always liked this definition of theater put forth in the 60s by Peter Brook: that one person walks across and empty space whilst another people watched; this is all that is required to engage and act of theater.

I don't see why film should be any difference. The value of the definition is that "acting" does not have a strenuous requirement; it is essentially presenting oneself as an active object of interpretation. But from there, one can set up any number of goals to fulfill; it's a useful definition in that it sticks to the bare essentials of what it means "to act," and in allowing the most flexibility.

Anyway, point being, I would never hesitate to list a project or effort on my CV or resume, however strange it might be, so long as I performed it well and it stated something useful about my work and experience. My only concern would be to be as specific as possible, and of course, you don't want to run over a page much or else it starts to look more like an extended list than a summary of qualification.

My two cents. :)

Sumara said...

Ah yes. I read "The Empty Space" in college, perhaps it would be a good thing to read again (you know how you can read something with so much more appreciation when you don't have to be doing an assignment on it!).

Yes, you're right. Any work you've done is "worth" listing if it's something you did with certain effort and achievement. Everything you've done so far has been a step to what you're doing now and what you're hoping to be doing in the future, so yes, it is important.

I just also think it's a question of judging whether, at this stage, the person viewing the CV will be interested , or suitably impressed, or not. Sometimes you have to shuffle around the things *you* (generic you) find important (I just mean in the order or format in which you present them. I don't mean adjusting your priorities to suit others) in order to present yourself in an appropraite way for the situation you're in. (which also has to do with keeping it fairly brief, like you say. Nobody wants to read a huge repetitive list)

On acting; I have a bit of a theory that the interpretation of "good" or "skilled" acting often depends almomst as much on the imagination of the individual audience member as on the ability of the performer. If you can *see*, along with the character, if you can put yourself in their space and join in what they're seeing and experiencing, then the acting is more real. Still takes a lot of skill from the actor, of course, in drawing the audience in in the first place.

This goes for major roles as well as the smallest background part - if you are watching the "restaurant patron" in the background but not really letting yourself believe that you're watching people in the restaurant, then you're not going to appreciate their acting are you.

Don't know if I'm making any sense, but I know what I mean...

jkr2 said...

don't know how much this influences the 'craft' side of the acting, but i've always thought one of the primary differences between theatre and film, is that film is the director's medium.
so the actor's use of the space or whatever is totally subjective to the way the director (through the camera) reads and relates that.

is that relevant?
sorry if not.

Sumara said...

Hmmm. Good point, Jo.

You're right that the director's choice of shot/angle/cuts can really alter the actor's performnce.

I'd really like to tell you all about how a film director affects the performance craft of an actor and ramble about what that means technically and artistically.... but seeing as I've had, as yet, no film roles, I can't. Oh well. I'll get back to you on that one. (maybe when I'm shouting you that overseas holiday, Jo, I'll tell you all about the acting experiences that earned it!)

Going a bit off-topic here...

Your thought "totally subjective to... the director" made me think whether or not ti's the director, though, who gets to make all the choices.
Screenwriters are always complaining that actors and/or directors ruin their script... directors complain that producers and editors ruin their film, actors complain that directors, editors, producers ruin what was a great performnce... I think the only constant is that film is always a collaboration and it's hard to define who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a film.
I dunno... that was just a random thought.

There's some good thoughts on it at this blog (Craig Mazin and Ted Elliot who are successful Hollywood screenwriters):

There are about 500 comments there but it's quite a good read about the process/politics/authorship of films. Actors barely rate a mention which I thought kind of funny.

Sumara said...

ok that url didn't work, try again... (I don't know how to make proper links in a comment box...)

Sumara said...

okay, never mind, if you're interested just go to and look for a post called "maybe it's time for a mission statement"