A Passion for Realism
By Carlotta Nillson
In studying and interpreting a character I imitate nature, the great model for all of us who live by the mimic art. No intelligent actor ever imitates another, but two actors studying nature may reach remarkably similar results. That, I think, accounts for that similarity of interpretations which moves critics to fling down the gauntlet of "Imitation".
No artist with ambition in her soul ever imitated anyone. Any interpretation is woven out of the very soul fibre of a player, as the web of a busy little insect, is spun out of the small body of him. So an interpretation, while it reflects the type of life designed by the author, bears the impress of the interpreter's character, the seal of her individual soul. To attempt to place upon it the die of another's conception is as contemptible as the work of the counterfeiter with his hidden moulds and stamp. Not only must the interpretation be his own, he should try to make it as real as nature herself. Nature never affects anything. There is no pretence in her. I believe in absolute realism. Much is said, and sincerely said, about creating the illusion of the real, of art being truth plus illusion. My creed is different. I believe in absolute realism as I believe in absolute individualism. I do on the stage that which I would do in a room under the same circumstances, precisely that. If necessary to get an impression over the footlights I do not exaggerate the gesture, the tone, the facial expression. I dislike the word, and the falseness behind it. What I try to do is emphasize it by a longer pause, a deeper tone, a greater fixedness of expression. Realism is the standard of modern art. It is what many of us are trying to attain! Is it not what Duse espoused long ago? What Mrs. Fiske worked for years to achieve before she secured recognition? What Lena Ashwell is trying to do?
Sarah Bernhardt says that illusion without reality is enough. She says it is not necessary to feel; yet I have seen her shed real tears on the stage, and that is a difficult feat without feeling. I study human nature subjectively rather than objectively. If I had to play a character of whose manner of life I know nothing, I would go out and find the type and study it. But I have never yet had to do that. Once I had to play a French villainess, and the management insisted that I wear a red wig and a red spangled dress, I disliked the colour of my wig, and told the management that I considered the inflammatory colour quite superfluous. I declared that I was able to convey the impression of villainy with green hair or no hair at all, but the management pointed out a clause in my contract in which I had heedlessly agreed to wear a red wig. I wore it, and the piece was a failure. I am not so great an egotist as to fancy there is a connection between those statements, but perhaps wig piled upon wig and other errors in the mad pursuit of objectivity, may have contributed to the failure. Without having a system of human nature study, unconsciously I study character, am always studying it. In my walks, and especially in the parks, I take mental photographs of the people I meet, comprehend their condition, and study why their condition is what it is.
We hear sometimes that temperament is the one essential of a player. A distinguished actor said: "There is no art in acting". He was unable to prove it because it isn't true. Temperament is indispensable, yes, but temperament is by no means all. There must be intelligence to direct it. The man who has temperament may play one part with tremendous effectiveness, but imagine that he has to play another part diametrically opposed to it, which will require information of locale or of time. What would he do for intelligence? What would he do without it? Temperament without brain is like a runaway horse with no driver on the box. There should be understanding and sympathy and wisdom and cultivation in an actor's equipment.
Suffering precedes acting. One must first be a loser to win. One must go into the world and be buffeted, must suffer humiliation and defeat, must despair before he hopes. Then comes victory. When a flower is crushed it exhales its fullest fragrance. That fragrance in the human sense is success.
Critics go to a performance and say: "Admirable!" They talk of God-given gifts, and even of the "luck" of this or that player. They do not think, or at least they express no thought, of the work that has made that success possible. My preparation for the part of Rhy in "The Three of Us" was ten weeks of solid work, when I thought of nothing but the play — ten weeks of continuous work that is, but before that for two months I had been getting acquainted with the play. Scene by scene I read and re-read it. I call this "nibbling at it". Every day from the time I rose until eleven o'clock when I retired, I studied. I knew, thought of, nothing else. Every day I went out to the hills and under the trees read my lines. I read them in different keys and with different intonations until the speech no longer jarred on my ear. Then I knew it had the right ring, that I was reading it naturally, that it stood the test of realism. Five weeks I spent in that way, learning to speak the lines in a natural way, giving them light and shade, teaching myself to play the part not in one, but many keys; and as I spoke, my conception of the part grew and grew. There were five weeks of rehearsals, and now, I hope, I am still improving my interpretation of the role. A performance may not always be the same. If I reached a point where I should say, "I have finished", I should know that that was the first step in the deterioration of the performance, and a backward step for the interpreter. A performance is no two times quite alike. It has the changeableness of the clouds.
I. Give the English equivalents to the below-mentioned words. Mind the pronunciation:
нести отпечаток индивидуальности актера
бессмысленная гонка за объективностью
II. Try your hand at translating. Do a translation of the following lines:
- Any interpretation is woven out of the very soul fibre of the player, as the web of a little busy insect is spun out of the very body of it.
- To attempt to place upon it the die of another's conception is as contemptible as the work of the counterfeiter with the hidden moulds and stamps.
- There should be understanding and sympathy and wisdom and cultivation in an actor's equipment.
- One must go into the world and be buffeted, must suffer humiliation and defeat, must despair before he hopes.
- If I reached the point where I should say, "I have finished," I should know that that was the first step in the deterioration of the performance, and a backward step for the interpreter.
III. Translate the given word combinations and recount the episodes where they occur:
- to interpret a character
- to throw (fling) down the gauntlet of...
- to create the illusion of the real
- to get an impression over the footlights
- to exaggerate (gesture, tone, facial expression)
- to secure recognition
- to convey the impression of...
- to contribute to the failure
- the essential of the player
- to jar on one's ear
- to have the right ring
IV. Give well-motivated answers to the following questions:
- What is character interpretation akin to (сродни) according to the author?
- Does the author believe in the real value of actor-actor imitation?
- What are the constituents (составляющие) of a successful interpretation?
- What is "realism"? How does the author try to attain it in her acting?
- What kind of "objectivity" in character approach (подход) contradicts the actress's intention to be objective?
- What essential does the author consider prevalent (преобладающая)in reinforcing (в усилении)the actor's perception of the role?
- What is the cornerstone (краеугольный камень; something that is extremely important because everything else depends on it)of successful acting?
- How does the actress treat her role? Is she in the habit of getting on by talent? How much does it take her to reach the desired effect?
- Is there a limit to the author's professional growth?
V. Interpret the following lines:
- So an interpretation, while it reflects the type of life designed by the author, bears the impress of the interpreter's character, the seal of her individual soul.
- Temperament without brain is like a runaway horse with no driver on the box.
- A performance is no two times quite alike. It has the changeableness of the clouds.