Friday, June 30, 2006

Have you heard?....Delsarte is all the rage in Borneo!

This from Brunei Direct this morning, under the hilarious headline, "‘Actors Should Be Appreciated, Not Antagonised'":

Bandar Seri Begawan - A basic Arts Theatre Intensive Workshop is currently being held at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP)Central Library's Lecture Room in BSB.

One of its facilitators, Hj Pawi Hj Tajuddin, recently stressed on the connection of mental attitudes to aesthetic postures and said that one's emotional state - is communicated by physical appearances. He said that an expert from France, Frangois Delsarte, coded his observations in a chart of gestures, which was subsequently used as a guide for expressions and characterisations by many amateur theatre companies.

Delsarte is generally known as the father of the cheesy melodromatic postures we conjure in our mind when we think of the type of theatre O'Neill wanted to "murder," the type in which his "father paraded around in."

However, this is apparently an unfair reputation. In the late 1800's Delsarte compiled some very good information on gesture, and though Delsarte never wrote a book, a secondhand disciple, Genievieve Stebbins did. The book, The Delsarte System of Expression was extremely well recieved. Then, according to this excerpt from Joe Williams' Delsarte Project Website, all hell broke loose:

BUT, the immense popularity of the subject had reached a virtual frenzy, and eager to meet that hunger, and also to reap the financial benefits of it, books by less studious/scrupulous “Delsartians” filled the stores. Anyone who had attended a lecture, or class, or read a book could insure their success by attaching the word “Delsarte” to their product, book or program. Special clothes for practicing “Delsarte” were being developed and sold. Designers could come to help you decorate your home, and plan your wardrobe for the best and most harmonious “Delsartian” aesthetic. Nearly every town in the country had a Delsarte club. Money was exchanging hands everywhere. A contemporary parallel might be seen in the popularity of yoga in major US cities now....By 1891, the “Delsarte” practiced across the country had degenerated into a culture of posing, as taught by the lesser teachers.

Of course, more realistic acting started to take hold again, and the principles of realism still dominate the craft today. Actors look at the posey photos of old and probably think of it as too restrictive. Although actors still have to be on the lookout for directors who wish to control them. As the esteemed Hj Pawi tells us:

"Unlike an orchestral conductor, a director cannot control actual performance," he said. Actors need to at least have the illusion that they are appreciated or have full artistic freedom, he added.

At least let them have the illusion.

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