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Yes, as rocks are
“I seem still to hear the words and the voice (of Edmund Kean) as I pen this passage; now composed, now grand as the foaming billows; so flute-like on the word 'moon,' creating a scene with the sound; and anon sharp, harsh, fierce in the last line, with a look upward from those matchless eyes, that rendered the troop visible, and their howl perceptible to the ear; the whole serenity of the man, , and the solidity of his temper, being illustrated less by the assurance in the succeeding words than by the exquisite music in the tone with which he uttered the word 'bright
It is an
Perfection of utterance is the basis of acting. artificial accomplishment, attained by study and developed by practice. We enjoy good recitation when we hear it, but we have forgotten that it is an art. In the matter of painting or music, we quite concede that any good work anything that counts as art - is the result of accurate knowledge. We know that the orient which shines about any finished production is the outcome of lifelong study and of a grind over detail. The grind has been continued for years, and about it there has hung little suggestion of clouds or of beauty, but rather the dust and chips of a workshop.
In the matter of singing, the professionals have educated our public. No one thinks that good singing is a gift of the gods, or that a child will sing well by nature. But in the matter of speech the American Educator of to-day is prone to set the little darlings on the stage and let nature be their teacher. Their beautiful souls will instruct them. Let them make their exits and entrances; let them recite their lines, and do their business according to the impulse of their pure little hearts; and we shall, no doubt, have such acting as can never be attained by instruction. The results of this sentimentalism are seen in our children's performances. Behind the sentimentalism, nevertheless, and obscured by it, there lies a truth, which the musical world knows well, and which the theatrical world will discover as soon as it takes up the training of children seriously. The performance of a talented child who has received a thorough grounding in technique has in it a divine element, a grace of its own, an impersonal, seraphic charm, which one cannot expect from the grown-up artist, and which is one of the æsthetic mysteries of the world. In the matter of acting, child-talent is common – it is very common: it is much the commonest of all artistic talents
but it is as helpless before a play as a musical child would be if confronted with a church organ. The child's hands must be placed on the keys and its mind adjusted to the music. It must be taught.
If you will take the pains to train a set of children averaging, say, eight years old, to play the “Tempest,” or some smaller play, which is expressed in language far above their comprehension but which deals with ideas that are entirely within it, you will find that the children at first have to be taught every speech and gesture. They do not know what the whole thing is about. They recite like little monkeys, and take each speech by itself. The words and gestures which they learn teach them the idea and at moments. They do the work before they understand the doctrine. As the day of dress-rehearsal approaches, however, the children begin to see the life of the story behind its separate scenes; and note this: it is the story that they see, rather than their own several parts in it. They have not an isolated “conception” of their own rôles, but a general conception of the whole plot and its progress, and of their cues as part of the story.
To endeavor to give a child a conception of his part is to confuse him. Let him act the part, and his conception will
- in scraps be the outcome not a thought, but a dramatic exhibition. As a rule, this understanding of what the whole play is about falls like a climax upon a company of children after a month of hard work; and they do wonders.
The special beauty and pathos of children's work is due to two elements: the ingenuousness of their natures and the finish of their performance.
The moment the detail becomes slovenly, the charm vanishes. This is so apt to occur in children's plays that perhaps one should regard it as a normal feature of them. When the children have once made a success, and feel selfconfident, they are apt to get excited, to forget their careful diction, and carry all before them with enthusiasm and fine acting.
On the instant that they do this, the beauty drops out of the show, and the educator must recur to first principles and give the urchins further drill in accurate speech and formal stage behavior.
I take it that grown-up actors might learn something useful to themselves by observing how children best attain a true relation to their rôles : it is by never thinking of the rôle as a separate problem. The “conception” of a part, the conception of a part! I will not say that a Shakespearean actor who is drenched in the whole atmosphere of the plays can do himself much harm by working up a conception of Othello or Romeo. The elder school of actors got their training as children do, and were master-craftsmen in recitation and in stage behavior before they were old enough to lay claim to an important rôle. But a young actor, or a new Shakespearean, had better never think of his rôle as a separate thing, but follow the thought of the author and of the audience, which is always fixed on the thread of the story.
I doubt very much whether Shakespeare himself had any “conception” of his separate characters. And why should one go to building up a set of phantasmal conceptions, and then letting them loose in a situation which is already complex enough without them? We see these so-called conceptions battling and cutting each others throats in amateur theatricals, where there is often room for nothing else but them upon the stage. It is hard work and selfeffacement that counts in the end.
In America, education occupies the attention of every. one; and this is one of the most hopeful things that can be said about our outlook. We are beginning to wonder what education is, and what part of it is connected with schoolbooks.
There has, within the last generation, grown up a scattered class of enthusiasts who are interested in speech. It was revealed to them, perhaps by some deep semi-religious instinct, one of those impulses by which Nature saves herself, — that a person who could articulate was a civilized being. They discovered, as it were by a miracle, that the brain, the heart, the attention, the muscular system, the soul and body, were drawn to a focus in the act of speech, and that education began here.
Perhaps, also, the danger that threatened our language through the influx of foreigners, and which was reflected in the speech of our own children and of their intimates, frightened these new prophets. Perhaps the suspicion passed through their minds that, unless they bestirred themselves, they would soon not understand the lingo that was being spoken in their own neighborhood.
Certain it is that many minds among us have been awakened to the importance of articulate speech. This is a matter that has never been neglected in Europe, where people have always taught their children to speak carefully, as a matter of course, and in the same spirit in which they put a spoon in the hands of a baby who is old enough to feed itself.
But the effort to improve our speech in America must be self-conscious and dogmatic; because a large part of