Monday, November 22, 2010

The Glow

I had a wonderful opportunity on Saturday to interview Leslie Reidel, Professor of Theatre at University of Delaware and Co-Artistic Director of Enchantment Theatre Company, and ask him some questions about authenticity.  Talking with Leslie is always educational and inspiring.  From a conversation of about 2 hours, I can only extract a small amount in this particular post but what Leslie had to share sheds a great deal of light on this very pressing question of how to define authenticity.  Expect at least one more post on this!

I started the interview asking about physicality and movement. In a conference paper that Leslie gave me,  he referred to the physical a great deal, so it seemed like a very key component of an authentic performance. He began by talking about his interest in shifting away from a behavioral or psychologically based model of acting to get at something more fundamental. How much more fundamental can we get than particle physics?  (Interesting turn, no?)  Leslie told me about a NOVA program he had seen years ago on subatomic particles -- quarks. The physicists were able to predict certain directions of motion in the path a particle would take.  Sometimes it would move "up" or "down" but other times it was completely unpredictable and the scientists described this as the particles' "charm." Really fascinating stuff!

Glowing bacteria!
Leslie's interest is in how drama is in us at the level of particles or DNA rather than something we acquire. How are we as actors behaving like quarks? Or are we? Should we be? I think absolutely we should. If anything is at the basis of authenticity, how do we get to a more basic building block than our atoms and our subatomic particles, our quarks? Obviously, drama and writing is a kind of construct but if we can construct these things with our most basic building blocks in mind, wouldn't that make the construction a more truthful, authentic one?

One other science-related item for this post. Leslie also brought up the work of Bonnie Bassler, a microbiologist at Princeton University.  Here's a link to a video of her speaking on "How Bacteria Talk." In a nutshell, she has discovered that when bacteria reach a critical mass, they become luminescent. And that is how the theatre works! Leslie made an explicit connection between Bassler's work and Aristotle's discussion of catharsis. This can only be reached when there's a critical mass of people. It can't happen when you read a play by yourself in your room. This point ties in to a some previous posts where I talk about the importance of audience to authenticity. You cannot truly achieve an authentic performance without the audience. And damn, if you can make your audience glow ... you've really got something there. Something authentic.

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