Acting in Real Time – What it is and where it came from

PaulPhoto 3 BrotladenOne of the inspirations for my work as a director and an acting teacher has been the work of Bertolt Brecht, many of whose plays I’ve directed, and whose ideas about the ‘epic theater’ put me on the track of my own exploration of acting, which eventually led to the concept of ‘acting in real time.’

I discovered the real-time actor for the first time, while directing The Measures Taken, one of the most controversial plays by Bertolt Brecht, in 1971/72. Among many other things, we discussed the role of the composer/musician Louis Andriessen in the performance: should he stay while we were performing the scenes, or should he exit and return to the piano, which was positioned central stage, any time we were going to sing a song?

We decided that he should stay and watch us perform. But what were those of us doing then, when the others were singing – exit, or watch? Watch, of course. And who were we then when we watched? The characters we played? Or ourselves? Ourselves, of course. But to be our selves just like that, wasn’t so easy, knowing that we were being observed by an audience, and used as we were to the ‘illusion of the stage,’ symbolized by the so-called ‘fourth wall.’

We needed not only to be aware of this position, which at first felt very uncomfortable, but we also needed a technique to ‘break the illusion’ of the stage. We took our cue from Louis: musicians play their instruments, and when they don’t play, they look at their score, at the conductor, and at their fellow musicians, their instruments the ready for the next cue. They don’t pretend – what they do is real. Actors can be like musicians, who play in ‘real time.’ But they need a technique to do so, tools to see them selves as the instruments they play, the play as the score, the performance as a concert, and their fellow actors who are playing their roles… and often times just are watching.

Real-time acting is a new convention and a new acting technique for postmodern theater: the actor is the intermediary between the performance and the audience: as himself he/she tells the story of the role he plays in the here and now and the reality of the stage. His/her presence on the stage makes the actor into the author of the performance he/she plays his role in. The real-time actor acknowledges the audience, and communicates directly with him. In real-time theater, what is ‘real’ is the acting, the stage, the audience, and the theater itself, not what is acted, nor the illusions maintained in the play and on the stage. The real-time actor creates “the reality of the illusion, not the illusion of the reality.” The convention of real-time acting is non-realistic and non-illusionistic.


PaulBlack Box.


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