Success in the arts; Acting
Success in the arts. A recorded program produced by the Chicago undergraduate division of the University of Illinois under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today success in the art of acting operatives have been Star Melvyn Douglas noted film and stage actor Sidney J Harris play critic and columnist for The Chicago Daily News. Teacher James Taylor University of DePaul. Moderator for the series is Studs Terkel a well-known radio and television commentator. Here is Mr. Terkel to open the discussion of success in the art of acting. Well gentlemen suppose we approach this a family the way a Japanese movie might do one thing one phenomenon a scene from three different points of view. Three pairs of eyes that of the practitioner the performer Mr. Douglas that of a critic Mr. Harrison one of the teacher Mr. TAYLOR. Douglas suppose you start the ball rolling What would you say are the this is a broad question leave requisites. Being a good actor.
Well obviously the first requisite is an essential talent of some sort. This can only be discovered as time goes along. It's not something. Do you spot behind a sort of fountain or walking across the campus. But beyond that as rich an experience as possible or educational in your life experience I mean finally everything that one does is everything that one feels everything that one thinks is a part of acting. It all goes into the work that you do on stage eventually. And lastly and most importantly training. No while actually finding out what it is that makes acting work it makes it what it is. Life as well as an academic background. Oh yes of course. Because life has everything to do with it. Harris is a critic. What do you look for in terms of performance.
Well it's very hard to put into words you look for a certain tone of authenticity I would believe for a person who is not merely rocking through his part or merely indicating but seems to understand what he's doing and who he supposed to be and will look for those innocent Quartus. This flair that a person not only has and I quite agree with Mr. Douglas acting is a two pronged thing first it's an almost intuitive flair that it has to be based on a very sound technique and a great deal of planning and I think one of the troubles with so much so-called acting in modern society is that it is based only on the flair and that people don't recognize that it has to be a craft before it can be an art. they were interested in self-expression but most sellers aren't really worth expressing until they have taken enough of a spiritual an emotional intellectual nourishment to give something back to the world. And this young people of course are naturally quite impatient about that never think of just hanging out a shingle and becoming a doctor without six of eight years of training that many people think that because they
look attractive or still grow they can go on stage and act which of course is that this time is what it was I'm going to look at India and I think good we're going to look around us to see how many have unfortunately achieved tremendous success on no other basis then those pleasant personality to which you refer. Sometimes it was even a pleasant personality it's not a nice pair of legs or what have you. And as a matter of personality like some young people Mr. Taylor meeting eager young people just starting out. They have me and they may have I not have the talent. He was a teacher. Yes I think we're concerned Mr. Turtle was there when we're training people for the theater and you say that you're training for something that they can go out and make a living off of some questions here other than myself. Besides what they should do what students should do to become a success in the art of acting. I'd like to know what these people are here today.
Other media for example would you say I think we should certainly discuss television radio motion picture film and commercial fields. Let's all ties in because the question of earning a livelihood as an adult like your life is real and I let me let me interrupt to say that. It would seem to me as essential as learning a livelihood is that the worst mistake anyone going into any of the arts not only acting not only that the rest must I think of possibly making this mistake this prevalent these days is to go into it with the idea of making a living. One does not become an artist with a primary idea of making a living. I think Mr Harris might agree with that one becomes an artist because one is impelled to become an artist because one is com Peled to become one because of his particular sensitivity his particular reactions to life empowering him to want to put that into some kind of artistic form. But if this is going to be inhibited there's going to be restricted by a desire to make a living out of it.
He's he's lost out as an artist right at the start and I think in addition to that and possibly Mr. Turner could tell us more about it I think in the theater perhaps more than any of the other arts there's a great neurotic compulsion to act. And I wonder whether it isn't very important for young people to try if they can to separate their feelings and find how much of how much of their energy has a dedication toward a profession and how much of that is an erotic drive of one sort and not saying that you want to drive cannot be good and constructive in the theatre and the arts. But I think that they become paramount then you have a kind of subversion of the artist toward the exhibitionistic personality. And I think there are a lot of illegitimate feelings involved in anyone becoming an actor or a writer or a painter and I think just as it is important not to become mercenary just as important not to sacrifice training and technique. It's very important not to submerge the total personality into this neurotic drive and as you've seen this in young people you have an interesting point because if one must give in to this kind of neurotic drive and one is say a painter
can be done at home and you show it to your family your friends and that's the end of it but if you're an actor you've got to get up and exhibit the sickness of our entire world and it's not always as interesting as it might be to answer your question in part Mr. Gross do you think it's possible to travel out into other directions for example. This was originally an erotic drive. It might be the thing that compels a man to go out and make a big success in an executive or when I don't want to go into the psychoanalytic discussion today of sublimating drives but I do think it's important that these young people have an awareness of the good and bad things involved in the drive and try to control the bad things. Let's assume for a moment that acting is a healthy profession and it's approaching that viewpoint it's quite an assumption about it what does it take for an actor to arrive as a performer now not not that he would make a million hysterical I wonder whether we first ought to try to define or separate the strands of success that we first talking about artistic success and then material are we talking about both together.
Well let's touch the first one then I just think success success as a craftsman. That's much the best approach to hiring. I think Mr. Douglas possibly not qualified to talk about that would run to begin with. Let us assume as you said at the outset that acting is an art. Let's try to arrive at a sort of definite indefinite generalized definition of art. I suppose it might be safe to say that art is capturing through a certain set of symbols of human feeling and the ability to project human feeling to project human experience. Well if this is true of the theatre and acting which is a large part of the theatre then this becomes the actor's job. His job is to know as much about human feeling about human motivations about human behavior as there is to know and then to discover through his craft through the techniques which he develops and which are
available which can be studied which can be learned. The means of creating of expressing a human being on the stage where listeners are Grove requires a great deal of work. There are as many if one wants to look for them if one wants to find them there are as many exercises let us say involved in learning how to use your imagination on the stage as there are in learning how to use the keys on a piano. There are very definite techniques for achieving this kind of imaginative effort. The realisation of this kind of concept. There are the essential business of the use of one's body. It constantly astounds me with so many of these young actors who are talented definitely have talent get themselves up on a stage and can't be heard beyond the second role. Well the criminal Finally an actor's job is to fill a theater with a concept which he has
dreamed up isn't that I want their reaction and an understandable reaction against the two Florette technique I mean you had in the past Florida or fashion technique and then 30 years later it was characterized by what I call the San Juan and that there's a standing with your back to the audience and just throwing a club salad bar to them sort of throwing a bone to their audience which I think is possibly more a psychological reaction than anything else it's a pendulum swing back to what could be right without a great deal to do as much as playing a part in pictures even though the approach to acting or as I say the same more intimacy is much more intimate. It's one use a technique that's comparable to what we are doing around this table at the moment rather than attempting to reach someone at the back of a large theater but the point that I'm trying to make is that these are essential bases of the class. These are things which much must be mastered one must know how to use one's voice either.
With a microphone on him as it is Mr devastating the key point here what with the new mediums of art I just expression quote unquote the theater rather movies television aided by technological devices a microphone the picks up a voice that people forget to project your lingo that dreadful The others are doing but again who are the most popular singers today can't sing in a hall without a microphone. Couldn't possibly have lost their vocal chord. Well I wonder whether we ought to get on from there to talk about rather than actor actually does do to get this experience in the theatre how did you get it where did you go from here to there seems to I'm sure it perplexes a great many of your students does it. Yes it does. They started for example in the universe disorders that are scattered across the country and where exactly do they go from there. He murdered the God of the universe anything that is in order to actually get acting experience to get a continuing acting experience. Well that's a very very difficult proposition there was a time in this country when with all of the stock companies repertory companies etc
etc that existed it was not too difficult for a young person with any present ability with any know how to get started. The market nowadays is much more restricted so that the possibility for starting are limited. However my suggestion would be that any young person who is really interested who is really enthusiastic unless they are they shouldn't be trying to do it because the hazards the pitfalls are much too numerous. But if they are I would suggest that. They use any means possible to keep working. There's hardly a city of any importance in the country today which doesn't have some kind of community theater which doesn't have some group that is acting and the important thing is to keep at it to keep working keep back and keep trying. Your methods your experience of life your experience of study to keep putting it into practice and eventually if you feel that you are sufficiently qualified New York tackle one of the
large centers but it's about the only large set of us you want to go to Hollywood round Hollywood as a center of sorts on the side of the art of going to war but New Yorkers of course as far as the theatre is concerned is the main plays on this matter of the art of acting as Douglas touch something only that might be tossed in the hopper here the matter not me. Training as an actor you mentioned life not your playing and Inherit the Wind the role of a lawyer before that in a comedy you play the role of a banker. I don't think that an actor perhaps Mike should read books should know about various things that definitely help him. An actor should live as fully as is possible for a human being to live. It's our lives that I would make it a little difficult to hold on. Oh I don't know is ours giving us certain advantages that other people don't have as well. I wonder where this young person who goes to New York though it seems to me there's a definite lack of any organization of the sort at least for finding these people and for cultivated them.
There is indeed there was an attempt on them on the part of I think CBS for a while to hold regular auditions but this seems to me to sort of petered out as a matter of fact Armstrong and I were talking about exactly that not so very long ago in New York we were saying that there should be set up a cooperative enterprise by producers in New York which would make it possible to hold regular weekly monthly auditions. And if you or anyone interested in presenting themselves could do so I go to the library serve that purpose for a while then it serves it to a certain extent now but this doesn't do a great deal for people who are not equally members of the library is constructed chiefly for those who are Equity members out of work. But for people who come in who have not yet been able to get into equity you hadn't had sufficient experience to. Be accepted by equity or we haven't gotten a job yet and there is very little opportunity on the floor strolled in trouble with every craft in the newspaper business we have hundreds of young people come up I'm not going to our doors in June after they're graduated and we say we can't
take anyone without experience and they say well how are we going to get the experience and of course you're involved in this vicious circle and the theatre more than anywhere else which trades on personality and glamour is in most cases simply unwilling to take a chance on an unknown. And do you have another vicious circle involved there where you have notoriously bad actors. And this is true of directors or producers guild who are simply hired again and again for a job simply because they are unknown even though the quality of their work is not very good or becomes easiest way out the average television director and your friends will. For a while when he starts I will say yes I want to see new faces I want a new personality. And then as the pressure of his work grows and believe me it's pressure he gets to the point where e says oh I know so and so I know what he can do I know what she looks like. Let's have her let's have him. This is true in other businesses. What about TV as an artistic outlet for an actor assume he gets a job on television or my own feeling about TV is that the entire thing is done too
quickly and too haphazardly to really completely realize fulfill the thing that you start out to do. Even in the commercial theatre you don't begin to have as much time as you like to have you have for weeks. But this is not a great deal of time if it's an important play it was an important part a part of any substance or part of any magnitude. It can take weeks and weeks and weeks to really find all that there is in that play and that part. But if you are forced into a situation where you have to do all of this within seven or eight days and which most of the attention is given to a given to the mechanics where the cameras are going to be and how the lights are going to be placed and where the microphone will be and very little attention given to the creative end of it it becomes a most frustrating experience for me but I think that's another thing for the actors I think one of the great cultural phenomena of our day
is that the technicians have become much more adept and the creators and that France is a public show in Hollywood your best people in Hollywood are your people who make the cameras and the carpenters electricians whereas the people who write the scripts the people who do the dynamic part of it are really very happy very stereotyped. I've sat through many prizes in which the actors were so far superior in the material they were using it was simply pathetic. Oh and of course you can get enough of that I said it runs the length of your acting ability and I'm afraid I wasn't allowed to do that kind of thing because of the fact that they are more conversant with the mechanics of picture making and because. The mechanical part of it has grown so much more rapidly and has become so perfect they have become mechanically minded to the point where they consider a great many of them that a script can be turned out on much the same mechanical basis as sound can be picked up our lights can be created and the result of that is that a script very often goes through a kind of assembly line process. I can imagine nothing more humiliating than being a writer in
Hollywood for years because you do something that you consider a piece of work. And what happens it gets on to the writers floor at one of the big studios or goes in one office to another and one adds a little bit here and somebody else cuts out something here and somebody else puts in something here and it winds up a synthetic mess by the time you reach the end of it. I wonder whether one right way to do. To see that artistic ability is somehow commensurate with commercial success and maybe the only way is for a broad program of public education so that the audience can learn to distinguish the contribution of the actor and the director and the playwright No not only can the audience not do this today but most critics cannot do this. Most Drama Critics of little play have really never studied the craft because you have this chaotic situation in newspapers too where the drama critic dies or goes to jail for shooting his rifle letter walks through the city room and picks out the first guy it wasn't working. Maybe the flyer editor and say you're not a drama critic. This man goes to the theater. He may bring the training and intelligence to it of his own sort but
not the other trainees and so he had nothing but an afterthought as a directors from when the director for what isn't here out of the script and something I'm not. Now if a critic cannot distinguish certainly the audience cannot and it seems to me that the most right of course the arts needed in America is a course in how to be an audience. Because you'll find France is in Europe where you have the right audiences who are going to opera for a long time. There really are a good thing or a bad performance or whatever the right same thing the theatre I remember some years back seeing Shylock performed on alternate nights by a great German German actor named Boss Armaan on one side and Joe show CROSSFIRE the Rudolph show crowd on the following night. This went on for weeks and people were able to make and to appreciate as you indicated very fine distinctions between the interpretation they were both equally proficient as actors but in their concept and their imaginative grasp of the part there were distinctions that were very interesting differences and these were apparent to
the audiences and very much appreciated wasn't a question of whether by some one was better a show crop was better it was a question of each run being interesting in its own way and as a matter of audiences is another question that might come up but I think hope springs eternal and audiences west of the Hudson east of Hollywood and Vine that regional theaters might be established that would involve the need of actors fine actors in Milwaukee working in Milwaukee and not Macy's basement. Well it might happen very occasionally but I don't think so you know they've got to know Rocky that I think is a kind of a joke. We had a group here in Chicago you know the playwright's group that were excellent two or three are now in New York doing very well but they couldn't subsist here they couldn't get a building they couldn't get funds they had a small Vanguard university you should better at it and they put on excellent credit some of it through a third and at best young actors I've seen in the country a couple of them like you know now and good afternoon doing rather well in the U.S. I want an audience get to see Mr. Douglas spoke of the earth and well you see that's why I'm kind of going to write a sort of and I radio and television because I think the audience on the head unless they change their slant they
Radio-TV get audience best to look for things in a way the audience wants to be too late and want to be too easily pleased. I think that's. To me the most infantile aspect of American culture is that audiences don't realize that they have to meet an artist halfway they want to sit back in their seats and have their stuff shoved down their throats and I don't mean that. Back anymore they lie down but I found the most horrible example of that I think I've seen in some time was Who years back after a Christmas dinner which we did not long ago and I walked in the living room and all the kids were sitting around lying around watching television. My boy I was and 17 was lying on his back looking at the set over the top of his head and the rest of them you know would switch from this to that list of that what does this do to attention I have it's impossible that there should be any really concentrated attention under such circumstances Erin and I think that fits with the growing and I have electoral ism of I do have the feeling that the Creator that the artist has to write or talk down to the audience and yeah I had a friend that told me about Jay-Z a top University
of Chicago who wrote a weekly column for a malign use paper of general circulation and I want to read it and I was amazed and I said how can you do this he said why couldn't America and Europe if a man doesn't understand what you're writing he assumes you know what you're talking about your looks up the words and he tries to understand you. In America if you write this read any news paper the audience will throw you out. They feel you have to write to their level all the time. Yes I'm terribly afraid there is going to be much change and audiences are much more depth of penetration as far as the theaters and so on until there is a complete change in our. Social attitude and I think this is where the school is going to I think the schools can do a job not only in France I think journalism classes are nonsense and colleges on the whole I think what a college should do is just teach a young man the liberal arts to teach him how to think and how to write clearly how to understand history and he can learn all the nonsense associated with journalism and six weeks is ridiculous and I think what schools ought to do as much as train people in the craft of writing or acting in the US is train them how to have taste train them how to how to exercise attention how to be discriminating.
I think only when we get young people who are broadly educated liberal arts and have discrimination rather than build up an audience rather than a backlash because so much of the cynicism and bitterness and drunkenness and neuroticism artists in America today is due to the fact that they don't feel that their gifts are properly appreciated and I think I'm going to have no real contact with the public that we have not got no another agenda Mr. Harrison is people hitting a key point here that the trouble isn't with theatre itself or with theatre article the general overall ask the right artist itself is a word of his derogatory word he was so many through there's a vicious circle involved here we have a perfect example now in all the newspaper wrote about the Grace Kelly wedding. Now the editors know it's rot. They know they're going to do much about it. Most of the regulars don't like it and yet it has that carries but it's only really just going along everyone is afraid to break into the circle and the same thing is true with the other two. Absolutely the same. Get a life in which they get from the grace teller what tonight I can tell you I had a romance kind of jubilation they expect in
the theatre they don't come wanting to be involved they don't come really want to give their attention to it they come only wanted to scratch a little sore spot a virgin you know someplace and this does not produce the interesting thing that I know are into their every word for a serious play is more a bit more that of a salesman doesn't get the word death in the title after I heard that recently an interesting reaction to an American audience by believe it was an English performer who said that in America the audiences seem to feel that wow I could get up there and do that too when they're watching porn instead of trying to get the message across. Oh I'm sure that's true. Where does this leave the young actor today. Young actor let's assume has talent has imagination is intelligent. What's in store for him. If you want to present this it's a very very precarious feature. Let's not kid ourselves and that's why I said at the outset that I would advise any young person to stay miles away from here unless he or she felt that they really had a genuine enthusiasm for the theatre that it was a
real object of interest that this was something that meant a great deal to them as people as a person on a rise. Why waste your time with it because the chances of keeping employed making a living are far far less than they are most other people. Is the average equity salary about fifteen hundred dollars here even if it's not yet something like If it's not and not so very long ago it was something like 80 percent of actors belong directly unemployed so that you are extremely fortunate. You have possibilities of making a steady living in the theatre. Tiny but I think the Hollywood myth has got a great deal of harm to any of us you me as Mr. Douglas said beginning that somebody's going to Iraq going to spot you behind the sort of foreigner rocking across that happened just often enough to often have to keep the legend alive right at this very very pernicious to young people it seems to me because they don't know what are the stars of Hollywood and that's simply got things happen to them. I never talked about of course.
Well then it's a pretty tough situation in terms of the academic theatre you know following that Thriller as such is dying. Oh no no no it's a matter of fact I rather look at the season this year you might think that it was from rationing more than it has for some time and this is a bare possibility I'm not at all sure of course we get back to our whole business of social attitudes again and I'm not at all sure that. More and more people around the country are becoming more and more bored more and more frustrated more and more depressed and beginning to look for something much more vital in their leisure time which will really involve them this just could be I would hope that it was true but not if it is true I should think that the theater might be one of the first places that would begin to occupy their attention as it is now there must be hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in the country who have the biggest idea of what a theater performance is not the vaguest as their story told by things that are theater days of center of theater here in the hinterlands and people for the first time in their lives seem like about actors being afraid.
All this happens all the time I have people come back every week who've never been in the theater before. High school teacher of speech two weeks ago brought 47 youngsters down they were I suppose 17 18 seniors in high school who'd never seen a live play before and their excitement was tremendous. One of the really appalling in a nation with the highest honor. In war. CORNISH an appalling thing to think and I don't think the point of the actor who started me the brunt of the current cultural pattern should be a very vital part is not sure because I don't suppose are any of the arts that are as close. To lead to the popular taste as close to the two people as the theater as it's the most contemporary of all of them the one that is probably closest to all there is no simple solution then Billy to the dilemma that there is enduring in terms of audience in terms of jobs. Good good actors you know I don't think there's a solution. I think the only solution is the things they have to get bad enough if they get better.
I think that's really going to solve many of the problems kind of adversity something the truer you know the guy's horrible enough we may decide to stop fighting them. The last 6 people to crawl out of the caves out of the rubble may decide that better have a rogue government the only way to live. This lady Heather Corliss is not a Pollyanna approach and terms as far as the young actor who may be listening is concerned but certainly it's the most realistic approach by a very distinguished practitioner of the art of acting Mr Melvin Douglas refined critic Mr. Sidney Harris our excellent teacher Mr. James Taylor. Gentlemen thank you very much for an enlightening half hour. It's rough but true in the US. This has been a discussion of success in the art of acting. Appearing on today's program where the stage and screen actor Melvin Douglas the critic Sidney Jay Harris of The Chicago Daily News The teacher James Taylor of DePaul University. The moderator for the series of Studs Terkel radio and television commentator. You now turn producer is Alfred Parker successfully is a recorded program produced by the Chicago
- Success in the arts
- Producing Organization
- University of Illinois
- WILL Illinois Public Media
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program, "Success in the Art of Acting," brings together actor Melvyn Douglas; Sydney J. Harris, a columnist for the Chicago Daily News; and James Taylor, a teacher at DePaul University.
- Other Description
- This series presents panel discussions that focus on various aspects of the arts, including the skills needed to excel. The series is moderated by Studs Terkel and produced by Alfred E. Partridge.
- Broadcast Date
- Performing Arts
- Motion picture acting.
- Media type
Moderator: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Panelist: Taylor, James
Panelist: Douglas, Melvyn
Panelist: Harris, Sydney J.
Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
Speaker: Partridge, Alfred E.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-19-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Success in the arts; Acting,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 23, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k649tc41.
- MLA: “Success in the arts; Acting.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k649tc41>.
- APA: Success in the arts; Acting. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k649tc41