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modeling & talent ● breaking into showbiz By Adam Hill How It All Began Anton Chekhov Learning about the history of theatre and famous acting techniques can help you build your future R ecently, I had a telephone call from a young lady who wished to enroll her boyfriend in acting class- es. She began by saying he seemed to be a natural and that he would act with her, and she was very impressed. She then asked if I would be able to show him how to show emotions. She spoke rapidly for a few minutes, expounding on the craft of acting-most of which was inaccurate. When I was able, I interjected that acting was a craft, just as playing the piano was a craft. I explained that no matter how great a person’s instincts and desire to play the piano were, it still took learning the craft to play at a profes- sional level. Thankfully, she understood my analogy. This brings up the question: Where did the craft as we know it today originate? If you are serious about learning to be an accomplished actor, it is important to have some histor- ical knowledge of its origins. Let’s go back a hundred and twenty plus years. Three things occurred that caused the cre- ation of the craft of acting as we know it today: 1) The discovery of electricity Until the end of the nineteenth century, theatre stages were lit by gaslight, making it difficult for audiences to see the actors clear- ly. Actors compensated by over gesturing and speaking loudly. This worked well with some comedies and farces, but not at all well for dramas. 2) The coming of age of new playwrights During this same period, new playwrights such as August Strind- berg, Henrik Ibsen, Frank Wedekind, and most importantly, Anton Chekhov emerged. These four playwrights wrote about everyday people trying to survive the tribulations of their daily lives. For the most part, until this time, plays were usually about nobility or the very wealthy. Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, 100 PAGEANTRY Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening (the source of today’s success- ful Broadway production), and Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull offered a dramatic change from the status quo. 3) The advent of realism In Moscow, a group of dedicated theatre artists led by Con- stantin Stanislavsky established a new kind of theatre, one that focused on realism. It was here, at the Moscow Art The- atre, that the craft of acting as we know it today was born. As the story goes, Chekhov wrote a play called The Seag- ull. It had its premiere at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Pe- tersburg. It was performed in the old school of acting. Chekhov was so disheartened by the result, he vowed never to write another play, and certainly never to allow another pro- duction of The Seagull. As fate would have it, Stanislavski read a copy of the play loved it. He asked Chekhov if he would give him permission to produce it. Chekhov agreed, with the stip- ulation that the actors performing would perform it naturalis- tically. He wanted to see real people on the stage. He wanted real emotions, real relationships. He wanted the audience to identify with the characters. Stanislavski got to work and began developing a training program that would enable his actors to give the performance Chekhov so desired. When the production opened in 1898 at the Moscow Art Theatre, it changed theatre forever. It was, and is still, consid- ered one of the greatest moments in modern theatre history. Most of Europe began approaching theatre with the same de- sire for reality. There were, indeed, camps who preferred the old school of acting. They were usually divided by the follow- ers of Sarah Bernhardt and the followers of Eleanora Duse. If you are interested, as I hope you are, google these two names and learn more about them. Here in the United States, theatre was going along as usual, mostly in the style of the old acting. Although there were a few productions of the great European and Russian playwrights, most theatre consisted of Operetta’s and Draw- ing Room Comedies, which were comedies based on the lives of the rich and famous. However, all wasn’t bleak. We began