The Actor’s Responsibility

J. Garfield, Stella and Brando by Al Hirschfeld

John Garfield, Stella and Morris Carnovsky by Al Hirschfeld

Recently chatting with an actor in the UK, he told me some of his actor friends actually “brag” about the fact that they don’t practice their craft. That would be akin to a painter not sketching; a musician not practicing his instrument; a ballerina not dancing in the studio when she isn’t onstage.

In my last post I wrote: “Acting, like no other profession—not doctors, athletes, and certainly not writers—have to use all three components in their work: the physical, mental, and spiritual.” You can read about my reasoning here. My caveat, however, of the thesis that acting is one of the most difficult professions is that not all actors actually put their body, mind, and spirit into their work as, Stella Adler would say, is their responsibility.

Stella used to lament the fact that American actors would study acting and then go off and audition and try to make a career, and stop studying. She thought of acting as a life-long practice wherein the actor continues to train his or her voice, honor his instrument (his body), and study (characters, scenes, playwrights) to learn more about himself and his role in the world.

Stella said, “All of us have a role in improving the world.” But she believed actors, more than others, had a responsibility through their art to enlighten. Her view of actors as aristocrats came from this belief. She lifted the actor to nobility. She instilled in her students a sense of tradition and reverence. I fear much of that has been lost on the contemporary actor. What are your views?


13 responses to “The Actor’s Responsibility

  1. This attitude is partly due to the fact that the majority of actors these days are looking to do film and television rather than theatre, which requires an entirely different and more demanding command of craft. Film acting does not require voice work, textual analysis, training in classics, etc. In brief, it’s easier. “Reality” t.v. hasn’t done much to foster a professional attitude, either.

  2. There is nothing like the good old days when actors were actors and those who received academy awards actually deserved them. There is so much garbage on TV, mostly reality shows because they are cheap to make. Gone are the great shows of TV and pretty much movies and acting as well.

  3. Thanks for commenting ladies. Beth, I disagree. I think film actors need to continue acting, practicing, working even in between films. Do a play, a scene study class, read a playwright and keep it growing. Why should they be any different from other artists?

  4. I love this article. Thank you Sheana. One question, is that Brando with Stella in the Al Hirschfeld drawing or is it Morris Carnovsky and John Garfield ?

  5. btw: I just pre-ordered STELLA! MOTHER OF MODERN ACTING — Congratulations of getting your book published – so fantastic.

  6. Absolutely. It is not a profession but a vocation. I can’t wait to read the book.

  7. id disagree with the people who say filmtv is any less demanding than theatre///apart from not having to project the voice, which is more of a practical concern than any special skill, acting whether on camera or on the stage is essentially the same discipline…an individual actor can make it as involving and creative or as half hearted and phoned in as he or she likes, but thats a different issue

  8. Scott, whenever someone says they pre-ordered my book (you’re the 6th LOL), I gush. In the publishing industry, pre sales determine to a certain extent the success of a book, so THANK YOU!

    Richard, I agree whole-heartedly that actors in all mediums have the same challenges and responsibilities.

  9. Anyone who says that is a slacker and a wanker but not necessarily in that order. Should smile and walk away from them. Then laugh when they are out of range. More stupidity followed up with audacity. They need more help than an acting coach can provide.

  10. Maurine Nichols Olin Good grief, of course we practice and study. Even during production, one is listening and working to bring out every possible nuance of the character. I now work with young people on their work. This is something we stress. It is wonderful to see the progression and growth of each one.

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