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A mechanical approach to actor training

by on October 28, 2012

Actor training in the 18th century, as we’ve been learning, was very mechanical. Actors were required to learn particular faces/poses/gestures, which would have been very heavily influenced by statues and paintings, and to be able to switch between these with ease. This mechanical approach reminded me of Meyerhold’s work into biomechanics in the early 1900s.

This approach to actor training is slightly more modern, but interestingly rather similar to that of the 18th century actors. In this approach, the performer is required to be much more like a gymnast and viewed as a performing machine. Pieces would be heavily choreographed so that each movement had strong purpose, similar to that of a machine. The performers lost all personal input and were viewed as puppets, with the director being the puppeteer, so to speak.

This mechanical approach to performance can be seen clearly in Meyerhold’s etudes; A series of movements which demonstrate the precision of movement in biomechanics. This clip shows an example of probably the most well-known etude:

Interestingly, each seperate movement, in my opinion, reminds me of greek/roman-esque statues.

By the 1920s, this approach to theatre lost its appeal but it still greatly influenced Soviet actor-training techniques. It is interesting that we are always approaching theatre/creating theatre that strongly reflects the technology of a certain time. To what extent, do you think, does the theatre of today reflect the technology of our time?

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