The Great Acting Debate… at the Day Job

19Nov08

A spontaneous discussion erupted today about the value of backstory in acting. One co-worker downplayed the need to develop any detailed history about your character, as well as the importance of specifics of physical objects when acting on stage. You do not need the coffee cup, she said. You do not need to know why you have a limp. You need only a lab coat to be a doctor.

For some reason, I immediately thought of Ashton Kutcher.

I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about acting. I don’t think any actor ever does. It is a lifelong educational process. Years of training that will always require work. Preparation. Professionalism. Commitment. It’s not all that different from any other job. Whether you study Meisner or Method, there is always homework. Details. A life with history.

Those who choose to ignore their backstory, are just cheating themselves. But, at least they make the odds better for those of us who do not.

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One Response to “The Great Acting Debate… at the Day Job”

  1. Aha. So you talk about it in the office … good watercooler conversation.

    I used to talk about it with students in acting class, and as a young actor I used to do HUGE backstories or biogs for my characters. It’s a moot point though.

    I suppose my approach is sufficiently neo-Stanislavskian to prefer working off the given circumstances and extending them to related stuff like back story. However it’s not necessary for an actor to know the brand of coffee his character is drinking to perform that character well, BUT if it helps him get into the creative state, then go for it.


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