Acting outside the 98

Some more interesting thoughts on ‘good acting’ and ‘bad acting’ from our old friend Marcus Geduld here:

Quora: How do you differentiate good acting from bad acting?

When I was training at the National Opera Studio, we spent a week at the National Theatre Studio studying purely as actors, with inspiring sessions from Erica Whyman, Tim Pigott-Smith and Nigel Planer amongst others, under the sage guidance of our acting teacher, the incomparable Selina Cadell.

The Wednesday morning session was with Toby Jones, who was as fascinating as you’d expect. One thing he said in particular stuck in my mind.

Imagine you’re watching a stage where there are a hundred people acting. Ninety-eight of them are acting well. One is acting brilliantly, and one is acting terribly. Your eye will be drawn to two people: the brilliant actor and the terrible actor.

In other words, great acting and awful acting are not as far apart as logic might suggest. This thought came back to me while reading Geduld’s article, since there are actors he uses as examples of bad actors who many would rate amongst their favourites, and vice versa.

Ultimately, as with all art, the true magic is not what the artist produces, but the response in the brain, heart and soul of the audience.

(P.S. During his session Toby spent a lot of time on Lecoq’s seven tension levels technique, which included him improvising a scene where he got out of bed in the morning and set his house on fire, culminating in one of the funniest denouements I’ve ever seen. But what made it staggeringly impressive was that he provided a simultaneous commentary on which tension level he was applying, and how varying the way he shifted between them made the scene either terrifying or hilarious to those watching – which you would never have spotted without the commentary. As with everything in performance, the greatest techniques are invisible to the audience.)


About Paul Carey Jones

Paul Carey Jones is a Welsh opera singer. He should be writing about the current state of the classical music business but might well digress into science, politics, football or cheese. He has recently started a series of irregular posts along the broad theme of "Things they don't teach you at music college." Any suggestions or requests on this theme will be treated with feigned or genuine interest. You can contact him via comments here or at:
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