the active lens: camera as collaborator in actor training

w/ heather nolan

Abstract: This paper – a conversation between scholar/practitioners working separately on the mediation of bodies – is an interrogation into practices of acting for stage and for camera, and ways that practices proper to the theater can be used in training actors for film. Challenging the essentializing metaphor: “acting for camera,” we engage strategies for dislocation of the sovereign seat of the director – a point of focus toward which bodies are trained.

We pull the camera into the making process, not as a capture device or as a stand-in for a future audience, but as one of the elements of the game.

Rather than accept habitually repeated logics of representation and the subjectivities that they tend to produce, we develop practices that replace actor with player. Drawing on the physical action from various Western theatrical training traditions, including those of Stanislavski, Growtowski, and Brecht, we have developed practices for actors and a framework for thinking about what “works” and what doesn’t in production of co-presence.

Much of our paper draws from workshops where we used theatrical devising techniques and games with filmmakers and actors. We take as a given that most actors-in-training in the West already have a relationship to camera that brings with it habits, ways of seeing, and trainings that require examination. We pull the camera into the making process, not as a capture device or as a stand-in for a future audience, but as one of the elements of the game. Actors become filmmakers and vice versa. The processes we found emerging unsettled the habitual narrativizations of the actor-filmmaker-editor continuum. Our paper reflects on our rigorous attempts at disrupting tendencies to take the camera (or the cinema apparatus in general) in terms of “perspective” and instead play (be active) for nothing.

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