Monday, February 25, 2008

Influence of the Crush

There seems to be a bit of a theme in recent posts by Dave T. about crushes. I want to share that I have "Dog Train" in my car's CD player and although I do enjoy Laura Linny's singing performance and agree that it is full of emotion, in no way does the song provoke a crush in me.

The question is: How much do those little crushes on actors we might get during the two hours of intimate yet safe involvement we have with them on stage affect our perspective of their performance?

I sat right next to Dave (a rare but enjoyable experience) as he drooled over Liz Blake in "Measure for Measure"- well, he didn't exactly drool but he was riveted by her as he has confessed in a previous post. So I saw the same show, from the same vantage point, the same night. But what is most interesting is that though I thought Ms. Blake's performance was valiant, I enjoyed Julie Phillips' performance more (note: I did not develop a crush on her but I guess I might have if things were different -oh hell, where am I going with this?). In fact I was a bit concerned with a couple of Ms. Blake's character transformations - she played several but a couple of them ran together for me.

I agree with Dave that Ms. Phillips high point characterization was Mistress Overdone but I thought all of her roles were very well played and her transitions distinct and seamless. I just felt that she did an overall better job than Ms. Blake.

Is it possible to weigh the amount of personal emotional reaction to an actor vs. objective criticism?


Dave T said...

Ah...I thought somewhere along the line I'd get a challenge from someone based on my post on crushes. Just didn't expect it to come from my blogmate!

It's nighty night time, so I'll have to respond with more thought later. But in the meantime, three questions to mull over: Is what we do objective criticism? Isn't it part of an actor's job to engender an emotional reaction? And as a critic, Ms. Burruss, how do you weigh your personal emotional reaction to an actor versus objective criticism?

Andrew Hamm said...

Funny that you should bring Measure for Measure up again (and again, and again). Liz and I were just talking last night about how much we'd like the both of you to see the show now, when so much of it has grown so much. Four shows left; you're both welcome to any of them.

But on the topic, when it comes down to the real nitty-gritty, an actor has two tools: the body and the voice. And we react instinctively to another human's physicality and voice. I've seen shows where I was just infatuated with an actor, and I've gone to see shows where I had a pre-existing crush on an actor. There's no way to just blow it off and not let it affect your experience. Hopefully a critic can separate the analytical from the instinctive enough to not make a fool of him or herself in print the next morning.

My viewing of VCU's production of The Three Sisters was all about my crush on Piper Blouin, an adorable, dazzling actor I had worked with the previous year. The rest of the show was wonderful, but Piper was the focus for me. That's just the way it goes. Thank goodness I didn't have to write about it.

Frank Creasy said...

What a great subject, though probably more suited to an open forum discussion than a blog. But, since this is all we have, I hope to see some more thoughts on this topic. Here are a few of mine.

Clearly any actor must have some skill to be effective. If the actor is unconvincing in their performance, unable to convey their emotions and thoughts through their voice, expressions, and mannerisms, or unable to elicit a smile or laughter in humorous or comedic situations, then that actor lacks the OBJECTIVE skills we require to be entertained as an audience.

But of course, what makes ME laugh might be different than what Mary or Dave or Susan Haubenstock find amusing. And what MOVES one person emotionally in a performance varies as well. So now we're stepping into the very murky SUBJECTIVE realm. Why do we empathize or like one actor more than another? Why are some wildly popular when another, at least as skilled or MORE than the popular one, toiling away in anonymity?

I would argue that any art defies easily quantifiable definitions. Not long ago Dave also hailed David Bridgewater's performance in "The Odd Couple" primarily because of the moments when David showed Oscar's tenderness when he spoke on the phone to his children. I saw the show and would agree that David demonstrated vulnerability that Oscar rarely showed in such moments - another such moment is the great ending scene when he and Felix show affection for one another in their own masculine, seemingly detached manner by asking if the poker game would go on after Felix moved out. David and Scott played the scene beautifully. We empathized with them, and we felt a kinship with them BECAUSE of their faults and their humanity. But in those moments there was an emotional connection between audience and actors that went beyond mere skill. Or - perhaps more accurately - there is a skill some actors possess that you can't learn from Meisner or Stanislavsky. How do you project your essence, your spirit, your soul to an audience? Some actors can do that. Some can't. Some put up walls we can't break through despite their skills; some fearlessly smash down those walls and proclaim "Here I am, warts, guts and all. Love it, hate it, but here it is folks." Those are the actors I love to watch. I can't measure it, but why would I WANT to? I'm affected, I'm entertained, I'm moved by those performances and reminded of what life's greatest priorities really are following a day of stresses and petty annoyances. That's why I go to the theatre.

I've got a short list of actors in my head who, when I know they're in a show, I'll do my best to go see them before others regardless of the script being produced, because I know those actors will make sure I'm entertained. That's all the measure I need of an actor. It requires no definitions or objectivity, probably because it CANNOT be defined. It is, after all, ART.

"Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art."

Andrew Hamm said...


we're working on developing an open forum over at RAPT's website in the near future. Stay posted!