Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Return of Bad Acting

I’ve had it with the latest acting trend. And though I don’t want to blame anybody, I think I kind of have to.
What I’m talking about is much more than good old-fashioned bad acting. I  got the idea for this article from talking with a friend of mine — a veteran of Canadian theatre. I asked him if he’s seen any good plays lately. He said “Well I saw this play, but the actors in it were doing that bad acting thing that’s so popular right now.” “Oh what do you mean?” I asked. He said, “Oh you know, when they are trying to show you what good actors they are all the time.”
What my friend was talking about was actors who have great technique and are always showing it off. In other words, they’ve been to theatre school. They’ve learned how to project their voices and how to move their bodies with exquisite poise. But when you see them onstage they are so busy showing off they’ve forgotten to pay a character.
When you watch these actors you may be fooled into thinking you are watching great acting (especially when we rarely get to see any really good old-fashioned good acting these days).
You might think Brecht is to blame for all this, because he went on about alienation. But I don’t think so. Brecht wanted audiences to be wrenched out of their rapture, their ‘hypnotism’ — as he called it. But in order for alienation to work, the audience has to be pulled in at some point so that they have something to be wrenched out of. A truly Brechtian performance pulls you in and out — it doesn’t just leave you at the sidelines, admiring the actors.
I think David Mamet is somewhat guilty, because in his book True and False, he goes on about how actors don’t have to play characters, they just have to say the lines and express the emotions. Well call me crazy, might Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pigeon be a credible exponent of his acting style? Then why is her acting so boring? (Answer: because she’s always playing Rebecca Pigeon).
But I’m afraid the real origins of this new acting style can be found in mega-musicals and the schools that train actors for them. These days acting students all want to get the big bucks by starring in American megamusical touring productions. In megamusicals actors do nothing but show us how talented they are. And when called on to sing, they just step downstage and deliver directly to the audience — usually fierce anthems about AIDS or poverty. But playing a character— that’s the furthest thing from their minds.
Recently I bought a recording of Crazy for You (yes, I am a trash queen), and was listening to a duet version of ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me.’ I noticed that the guy was singing the line “the way you sing offkey’ to a girl who was doing a passable imitation of Kristin Chenoweth (don’t they all?). Well of course an actress in a jukebox musical would never think of actually singing off-key. What if some mega-director saw her?  
A part of me welcomes the latest reality theatre trend (i.e. people talking to their moms or their best friends, people arguing about politics, people talking about their lack of privilege). At least these people aren’t showing off what great actors they are.
Recently at a party I was introduced to a couple of students from Randolph. I couldn’t help myself. I was just a teensy bit tipsy, so I leaned over and said — “I bet you’re triple threats, right?” “Oh yes,” said one, beaming, unaware of my irony. The other was a bit craftier.  “I’m a double threat “ he said. brazenly, “acting and “ — (he  pointed to his brain) —  “thinking.”
Which one do you think gets the part?

Friday, 13 June 2014

It’s Time To Say Goodbye

I’ve been feeling depressed lately — partially because one of our cats has tendency to poo on the floor and we can’t figure out why. But it isn’t only that. Richard Gwyn recently wrote an article in the Star that made me realize it’s time to say goodbye to universities as we know them.
In his article, Gwyn suggests that university professors should not have tenure because they misuse it, and that they are overpaid anyway, and students learn better online.
 Once I would have said: ’Hey, Richard, it isn’t the system that’s wrong, it’s the bad apples. Maybe some tenured professors are lazy and abuse the system. But that doesn’t mean the system itself is wrong. There are lots of car accidents, but have we decided to abolish roads?’
I have realized, finally, that this argument is based on a false analogy. The reason we don’t abolish roads is because roads serve a greater good. But what is the greater good of tenure?
Well, we used to think that the purpose of tenure was for professors at universities to do research. The idea was that if they were coming up with challenging ideas, then they should be paid for that, and not be in danger of being fired.
But the idea of universities as places for professors and students to do research is outdated. We now know that universities have one purpose and one purpose only: to prepare students for jobs. In fact universities of the future will probably have to guarantee  that students  get placements somewhere, or else close down.
You see the focus of our lives has changed (God knows what it was before!). We know now we should concentrate on feeding our children and improving our standard of living. In the past, discussions of what is ‘truth’ — or what is ‘good’ — mattered, because it was important for people to figure out how to make the world better place. Now we know that a better world just means a higher standard of living.
And if we have any other questions, Wikipedia will answer them. In olden days, university professors asked students to question the information they got from the web. But that’s complicated and it takes time. And the great thing about Wikipedia is that if you don’t like the information you find there, you can go online and change it.  So now, truth is democratic.
Who cares what is good or bad, right or wrong, real or unreal, anyway? The important question is: how many people like it? How many thumbs up does it get on facebook or iTunes? If something is popular than most people are going to buy it, and that means you can sell it. This is really all that matters.
I want to apologise to all those people who read the articles I wrote defending universities in the past. I also want to apologize to all the students I bored with my hopeless attempts to get them to do what I called ‘critical thinking.’
I’m sorry about that. I always knew you kids didn’t want to think critically — so what was the point of putting you through all that stress? It’s very difficult to take every little bit of information you get from the web and try to figure out if it’s ‘accurate.’ 
I’m sorry I wasted your time.
Common sense is the wave of the future. Once only Tory politicians like Mike Harris believed in the importance of common sense — but now even NDP politicians like Andrea Horvath believe in it too.
Come on. We all just instinctively know what’s right and what’s wrong.We know in our heart of hearts how to act, and how to be. We just need to follow those ‘inner promptings.’ And universities are  boring, snooty, elitist places where rich, effeminate, tenured professors earn fat salaries investigating nonsense. Unless universities prepare young people for jobs, they should be abolished.

I’m glad I finally figured it out.