What Acting Is (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2018 semester seminar led by Joseph Roach and sponsored by the Folger Institute Center for Shakespeare Studies.

Beginning with Antony Sher’s Year of the King (1985), the actor’s own story of what it was like to prepare the role of Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and ending with Year of the Mad King (2018), his account of his recent King Lear, this seminar will look inside the creative process of acting Shakespeare. Historically underestimated as an interpretive rather than a creative art, acting is not only the principal medium through which playwrights bring their characters to life as co-creations. It also stands up as an art form on its own rigorous terms, a process of probative rehearsal and perfected performance demanding exceptional resources of imagination, psychological acuity, and memory as well as physical gifts of voice, movement, and physical stamina. Saying what acting is requires learning as much as possible about what the greatest Shakespeareans make of it, and the Folger’s holdings in production history support precisely such explorations and discoveries.

Director: Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor of Theater at Yale University, is the author of The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (1985), Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (1996), and It (2007), a study of charismatic celebrity and ageless glamor.

The seminar participants and director collaborated on the writing of a summary account of their findings, which has been published on The Collation. The four sections of their blog post, collectively titled "Come Hither, Actors," are Textuality, Temporality, Mentality, Physicality.