Counter Acting

Counter Acting

Thoughts on acting, by Stefan Stenudd


The arts contain numerous paradoxes. That's particularly true for the art of acting. Those who master it know to play on the opposite of what is called for, thereby enhancing it, as if real acting is counter acting.



       It's a well known trick in the trade that to play drunk, you shouldn't just slur and stumble. Instead, you play it as somebody trying very hard not to do that – but failing. Those who are drunk pretend to be sober and think they can get away with it. So, playing drunk is to be miserable at playing sober.

       The same is true for several of the most heartfelt emotions, like love, jealousy, fear, disappointment, despair, and so on. Someone falling in love initially tries to hide it. In jealousy we try all we can to overcome it, to be indifferent. With fear we fight not to be overcome by it. Actually, there are few feelings that we just go ahead and express willingly. Especially not the strongest ones.

       In all these cases, the actor has to excel in counter acting, pretending the opposite, pretending not to have the feeling at hand. That makes it believable and intense.

       Also playwrights must be aware of this paradox. And they are. In dialogue, what is being said is between the lines, not on them. What's spoken is often the very opposite of what the character feels or would like to express. Otherwise the drama loses its tension, well, its drama.

       It says fundamental things about what it is to be human and how we really relate in our lives. It's kind of sad, but there it is. Our species seems to be one of awkward confusion. Life could be easy, at least most of it, but those big brains of ours make everything a mess, which takes a lifetime – at least – to sort out.

       The catharsis, which is the true goal of every drama, is to realize that and thereby learn to live with it. Although we're rarely able of cutting through the fog in our own relations, on stage or on the screen we get to see others fail just as miserably. In doing so, they make the fog transparent. We understand.

       It doesn't solve much, but it makes us grow.

Stefan Stenudd
June 6, 2012




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Ever Young. Novel by Stefan Stenudd. Sunday Brunch with the World Maker. Novel by Stefan Stenudd. All's End. Science fiction novel by Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes - The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tarot Unfolded. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Your Health in Your Horoscope. Book by Stefan Stenudd.




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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both Swedish and English. I'm also an artist, an historian of ideas and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.