One of the greatest difficulties we face in the creative sphere, is the notion of subjectivity. Art, and its appreciation will always lie in the mind, heart and soul of the individual. Art will always be subjective. There is no escape.
But like everything, there is always a flip side. It is is art’s very subjectivity which makes it so unique, so empowering, so educational, so transformational. Can you imagine art, regardless of the medium, and more specifically creativity, being treated objectively? In my experience, I know of no vocation, no calling, that provides so much scope to be anything but subjective. The very notion of creativity means that there must be no objectivity, there must be no boundaries, no criteria, no ‘bell curve’ and if there are, they must be pushed,poked and prodded until we see beyond the veil (the red curtain no less), into what we should, or could be as individuals, and hence as a collective populace.The number of artists who ‘failed’ art/drama at school or were not good enough performers because they didn’t ‘fit’ the norm are too numerous to mention. Ben Quilty, Australia’s latest Archibald prize winner is one most notable recent example. He failed art at school. The Beatles apparently didn’t have a career in show business according to Decca Records. Harrison Ford was told he didn’t have ‘what it took’ to be a movie star. All subjective.
So how does this fit into Acting? Well, in performance art, specifically theatre, film and TV there are concepts, well worn approaches and stock standard moves, but I prefer to view these as lore and not ‘Laws’ in a Newtonic sense. They are approaches that an actor or director must take but they are not prescriptive. They are always open to interpretation and hence subjectivity. As Quora Contributor points out in this article from slate.com, if anyone tells you there are objective standards, they are full of crap. This is a matter of personal taste. There are trends. There are many people who loved Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting. But if you don’t, you’re not wrong. At worst, you’re eccentric. The article goes on to suggest that if I say, “Pacino is great,” and you disagree, my experience does not make me right and you wrong. It just means we have different tastes.
Good Acting in essence therefore, is not subjective but more so to do with believability. If an actor can make someone believe they are sad, believe they are dying, believe they are crazy, then the actor has done their job. They have created. There also needs to be, as Quora Contributor points out, an element of surprise. This is very true of comedy I believe more so than drama. True, dramatic performance will effect the viewer if they don’t know what is coming, but comic talent also lies in the audience being surprised.
So, it’s about believability or being real and unpredictable. This is where art and creativity shine. How many times have you heard people say (when they are amazed about something) that’s incredible, I would’ve never thought of that. Real and unpredictable. As a director, this is what I look for in actors. As an actor, this is what I strive for in performance. To be real, but not to give anything away.
After all, true theatre lies in its magic and great magic is real, and unpredictable.