Bottom: “...To the rest—yet my chief humor is for a tyrant. I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split...An I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too. I'll speak in a monstrously small voice...Let me play the lion too. I will roar that I will do any man's heart good to hear me...” ~A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, Scene 2
This famous Shakespearian scene is something that many in the acting community can relate to. It is likely that we all know, are, or have heard of an actor who thinks that they can play every part, or simply doesn't know what types of parts they should play. It is my personal belief, that when Shakespeare wrote Bottom's dialogue for this scene, he had someone very particular in mind. Many beginning actors struggle with defining themselves within the broad and deep ocean that is their artform. Acting is a protean, elusive, and laregly invisible artform, so often indivisible from the artist performing it, to the point that we often refer to the character portrayed by the name of the actor playing them, rather than by the character name itself. Much theorizing, and libraries of texts have been written on the subject of acting, and each culture the world over has its own styles and school or schools of performance, each one of which you may spend a lifetime in studying, and it would be time
well-spent. I nevertheless will assert that there is no such thing as a 'correct' version of acting. Rather, the acting art is more like a workshop, wherein there are many tools, some of which are particular to a certain type of project (stage combat, magic, ventriloquism), others of which are more universal, and every actor should attain a high degree of proficency in (cold reading, improvisation, dramatic structure and movement). You cannot achieve mastery of every tool, but you can play with them all, and I encourage every actor to investigate as many forms as they can stomach to see which ones suit them best. But this is showbusiness, and inevitably the day comes when you, as a professional, have to make money from your skill sets, and professionalism requires mastery. Therefore, it behooves an actor to hone in on, and acquire mastery of, a small set of skills with which to ply their trade, slowly broadening that skillset outward, like a nautilus shell spiraling from an infinintesimal center-point in an increasingly wide gyre. This core skillset is what we will denote as your craft, your methodology and your tools, whereby you engage in your art, the problems that you as craftsman, solve. The type of actor that you are is based on the conflux of your combined skillset. This is what acting conservatory programs do: their programs are deisgned to produce a given type of actor. A generalized and certainly non-exhaustive example might be: A Classic conservatory will produce an actor skilled in dramatic structure, improvization, and (likely) stage combat (a fixture of classical texts); while a program inclined toward Musical Theatre might produce an actor who specializes in musical vocal technique, dance, and commedia. This is certainly not to say that every actor emerges from a given program as a carbon copy; but that within their respective cohort, each emerges with a standardized working vocabulary and proficiency in a defined set of skills, which it is then up to the actor to develop as they see fit. Film and television too, have their own skillsets which
are highly suited to the particular needs of those mediums. And there is certainly a great deal of interdisciplinary cross-over! So what am I rambling on about? I suppose that it is a very simple truth which often eludes actors early in their careers, and it is this: you cannot be all things. No actor that has ever walked the face of the earth has ever had all of the tools required for every project. This is sometimes a hard truth to face. Actors are often for some reason expected to be something more than human. Some actors want to be the end-all-be-all. The simple fact is that neither of these things are true, and it is a good thing! The artform so thrilling and engaging, because it requires many persons of various disciplinary backgrounds in order to function properly. A play, musical, or film is only as strong as its weakest link, so those links had better be strong! There is a great deal about the acting profession which is out of the artist's control. One of the things that is theirs to command, is themselves. Nothing beats mastery of your craft. Whether it is through a professional collegiate or conseravtory program, outside classes, or for those true autodidacts: personal training regiments of monk-like discipline; eventually every professional actor must
put their ego aside, roll up their sleeves, and get down to the business of defining their craft, and in so doing, defining themselves.