Essay: Actor as a Scenographic Instrument Focusing

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¶ … actor as a scenographic instrument focusing on the work of Robert Wilson

The concept of the actor as a scenographic instrument is often associated with the new perceptions and expressionism that stems out of the modern and contemporary theatre, probably because it represents such an antithetical approach to the naturalistic perspective of 19th century theatre.

In this context, perhaps the individual who has helped best in defining and proposing this new concept was Robert Wilson. His complex combination of language, movement or lighting into a unitary support framework for the artist was a cornerstone of what the concept stands for. This paper aims both to examine the concept itself and present Robert Wilson's vision on it.

The first notable element about the new concept pertaining to the role and expression of the artist is that it comes to oppose the "naturalistic concept of the actor as imitator of human behavior"

. The emphasis previously placed on physical characteristics and elements, deriving from the need not only to relate best to the character being played and the only tool used to denote expression on stage, is now complemented successfully by other elements.

The interest is no longer solely towards reproducing the character played, but moves more towards placing the actor is a more collective reality and, thus, amplifying his capacity of expression through additional means. The belief of the concept of the actor as a scenographic instrument is that placing him in this larger framework will maximize his representation on stage.

Following this introduction to the concept, one needs to point out that this new perspective on the artist goes hand in hand with the idea of symbolism. In its simplest form and explanation, the artist no longer bases his performance solely on his own person, but uses auxiliary elements to move the representation to a different integrative level. In order to do that, he uses symbols and allusions, innuendos and objects on the stage, all in a symbolist framework. This is why the new concept for the artist transforms his representation from a linear one to a complex, more detailed performance.

Ultimately, the difference between a naturalistic artistic performance and the concept of the actor as a scenographic instrument is also the difference between two different perceptions of reality. One is the realist, naturalist perception, which is meant to capture in detail the elements of reality, emphasizing the way these are reflected in physical or psychological reflections. The other is a symbolical interpretation, according to which there does not need to be a naturalistic connection, as long as there is another element that can offer that connection on a symbolist level, based on individual perception.

Because of the need for a higher integration of different elements (in 1915, Craig mentioned no less than eight such compositional elements, including movement, light, painted faces and facial expressions

) into a unitary stage representation, the role of the director increases as compared to the naturalistic approach, as he takes over the task of putting together all the elements, place them alongside the actor's performance and ensure that the synergetic effect of this action is a positive one. If one complements the role of the actor with props, music, stage effects or dance, one needs to ensure that all these come together not necessarily in a logical way, but a way in which the audience receive the appropriate message that the artist and the director wish to pass along.

On these general considerations comes the work of director and playwright Robert Wilson, considered by many one of the leading theater artists of the 20th century. The subsequent part of this paper will refer to how some of the elements that have been discussed previously are used by Wilson to create the concept of the artist as a scenographic instrument.

The best place to start is with the artist's movement or, as Wilson occasionally puts it, with the lack of artist's speech or language. The issue at hand here is that, contrary to the naturalist concept for artistic expression, as previously shown, other elements play a similarly important, if not more important, expressionistic role. In this case, it is the movement of the artist on stage that can express feelings, denote sensations or states of mind or play. As Holmberg points out referring to Wilson's concept, "they don't understand the weight of a gesture in space. A good actor can command an audience by moving one finger"

Movement can occasionally be associated with language in Wilson's interpretation or, as it often happens, with the lack of language. The message that Wilson passes on is that language by itself is useless in providing a full expressionist value to the work of theatre. Words need to be placed alongside other props that the actor can provide, not in the least his movement on stage. Movement and language will eventually come together as a unitary expression of the artistic credo.

It is important to note that reference to movement and language includes reference to the lack of movement or language, to which Wilson adheres repeatedly in his work. There is no dichotomy here between the concepts. The explanation is that Wilson perceives language and movement in their entirety, with different particular values, such as the existence of such actions or, if the case requires it, the absence. In both cases, he is basing the artistic act on the capacity of expression that these additional elements bring to the stage.

The importance of the combination between language and movement in Wilson's conception of the actor as a scenographic instrument is shown in the way he perceives Marlene Dietrich's comments to someone who has mentioned her cold way of acting. Her reply shows that "you didn't listen to my voice" and "And that was so true. The voice could be very hot and erotic, while her movements could be icy-cold. She turned to me and said, "The difficulty is to place the voice with the face"

Wilson underlies here the importance he gives not to the language and movement as separate elements of his concept of the actor, but rather as their role together, the synergy the two can create. An actress like Marlene Dietrich understands that the two elements can work very well together even if they seem to go into different directions at some point of the actor's play.

Wilson's belief that movement is the central element in his conception of the artist as a scenographic instrument can be seen from the way he perceives movement in his interpretation of time and space. According to Wilson, "time is a line that goes to the centre of the earth and goes to the heavens. Time and space make the basic architecture of everything"

. There are several important things that can be understood from this statement.

First of all, in Wilson's artistic conception, the actor is only part of an environment entirely founded on temporal and spatial coordinates. His own interpretation of the role evolves in this environment and this is not something from which he can derive. Second, because of the importance of time and space, the way the actor moves on the two coordinates is essential to his success in the role. This is way, as previously pointed out, movement does not necessarily always means a dynamic action, but, occasionally, simply standing (temporal coordinate) in a certain part of the stage (spatial coordinate). By standing still, the actor still acts in the given framework as part of the scenography conceived by the director.

Another important element in Wilson's work is the lighting in stage. At first glance, the lighting is able to bring forth a certain element on stage and, thus, emphasizing a particular part of the artistic act, depending on what the director wants. Quite often in Wilson's work, lighting takes on a different dimension as well, other than that of an element in the overall concept of the actor as a scenographic instrument. The lighting underlines and emphasizes the work of the actor, but, at the same time, it has its own scenario to play and, occasionally, it has a life of its own rather than an on-off effect on the stage. The key characteristics for lighting in Wilson's work is that it is continuous and, from that perspective, it has a continuous role in his artistic creation.

Finally, there are the props. As the other elements mentioned, the props complete the evolution of the actor on stage to transform it completely from a naturalistic approach to one that is fully integrated and entirely expressionistic. The relationship between all these elements is obvious in what Wilson says on his choice between wooden and aluminum chairs: "I want wood chairs. If we make them out of aluminum, they won't sound right when they fall over and hit the floor. They'll sound like metal, not wood. It will sound false. Just make sure you get strong wood. And no knots"

Here one better understands how… [END OF PREVIEW]

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