Interchangeable Parts : Acting, Industry, and Technology in US Theater (Video)



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  • [Music]
  • Hello, my name is Dr. Victor Holtcamp. I'm an
  • Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Tulane University
  • and I'm here to talk about my book, Interchangeable Parts: Acting, Industry,
  • and Technology in US Theater. The big idea behind this book is that I
  • was curious about how people learned how to learn
  • to act. How did we end up in a place where there were schools of acting
  • where someone could learn how to be an actor but perhaps
  • be on stage very little over the course of their actual
  • educational career. And that idea that there was a way to become an actor
  • without just acting, it's actually a relatively recent
  • innovation in the world of theater and dates to the late
  • 1800s, the latter part of the 19th century.
  • So what I decided to do was sort of look at how this came about.
  • How did we create this system where people could figure out what it meant to
  • be an actor independent of being on stage every day.
  • Now prior to this period the way that you became an actor is very much like I
  • was describing an apprenticeship model. You would apprentice yourself to a
  • theater company, you would play small, very small roles, servants, spear
  • carriers, that sort of thing. You'd watch other people
  • and what they were doing. People who had more experience and bigger roles and
  • you'd watch what they would do and then you would try to copy that and then
  • eventually you get your chance to give that a try. And this changes,
  • again starting in the late 1800s. Suddenly
  • people are starting to say that maybe acting was a little bit more than just
  • copying what somebody else was doing. There might be a
  • system that could be worked out that would make somebody a better actor and
  • that could be separated from just acting. And this was greeted
  • with a great deal of suspicion by folks at the time who felt that trying to
  • systematize something like art was antithetical to the very nature of
  • the process. And a lot of people got flack just
  • because they were proposing any system at all regardless of what the content of
  • that system might be. But the idea that there could be a
  • system proved remarkably seductive and one of the reasons that I posit that it
  • was seductive is because it intersected with another
  • strong strain and cultural currents at this time, which was the
  • increasing embrace of industrialism, and industrial philosophy, and rhetoric. The
  • same time that you start to get these schools of acting, let's say that you can
  • break apart and play down into a series of sort of
  • component skills that you could then build back together.
  • Interchangeable parts technology as far as a manufacturing practice was also
  • really coming into its own and was proving itself
  • incredibly influential, and popular, and powerful. And so it's the
  • intersection of these two areas, the rhetoric of industry on one side and the
  • rhetoric of theatrical practice on the other that
  • I try to explore in this book. Originally I'd only planned on looking
  • at live theatrical practices but I determined as I was
  • continuing to do research that there might be something sort of interesting
  • to look at in film practice as well. And so I got a chance to dive into what
  • was going on both in the silent film era and in the sound film era during the
  • golden age of the Hollywood studio. And what I found is that there was a
  • frank acknowledgement of the fact that it was not just
  • looking good or the camera liking you that would make somebody a good actor
  • or a bad actor. That there was in fact a sense that there was a skill that could
  • be learned and that could be learned in a class
  • before you actually got in front of the camera itself.
  • And so I got a chance to look at how that argument was played out both in the
  • live theater world and in the film world. And there's a lot
  • of intersection between the two of those things.
  • And as we head closer to our own time in the late 20th heading into the 21st
  • century, what emerges is that some of the most influential
  • acting practices and techniques and people from the 20th
  • century, whose influence is definitely still felt today in a number of
  • programs, really have a lot of their roots in this
  • same batch of industrial rhetoric that I
  • explore from this time period. So that's sort of
  • an overview of the book itself. I was really excited to
  • get to dive into this and that I get to spend some time with some of the
  • writings of, again, some of the most influential
  • teachers of acting in the United States in the 20th century. And I also got a
  • chance to do some really fun archival work
  • as well. I went out to Los Angeles and spent some time in the Motion Picture
  • Academy of Arts and Sciences Archives, the people that
  • brought you the Oscars. They have an archive as well. So I got to spend some
  • time digging through studio files there. Warner Bros.,
  • the studio, all of their papers are stored at the University of Southern
  • California, so I spent some time at USC as well doing some research there.
  • And I spent some time in the New York Public Library
  • getting to do some research in their archives as well as pulling a few books
  • from our own Special Collections here at Tulane.
  • My hope is that if people read this book they'll come away with a better sense of
  • what are the underlying assumptions behind a lot of approaches to acting
  • technique and methodology that are still around today.
  • And they'll have a better sense of the way that theater is not separate or
  • independent from these larger cultural currents. That in fact
  • it reflects them and can influence them as well
  • as I think the overlap of these two particular areas really shows.
  • The next thing I'm interested in looking at seems like it might be somewhat
  • different. I'm interested in looking at stage and screen representations of New
  • Orleans. So on the one hand it's definitely
  • not as practice focused as my look at acting technique and pedagogy, but on the
  • other hand for me it encompasses that same idea of
  • trying to look at how theatrical practice and how screen practice
  • reflect these larger cultural concerns and influences.
  • So that's a little bit about me and the book. Thank you so much for watching and
  • I hope that if you have any questions I'll get a chance to answer them.
  • Thanks again.
  • [Music]