Ask the Experts: Anjalee Hutchinson on the art of acting
February 23, 2012
Lewisburg, Pa. — Anjalee Hutchinson, assistant professor of theatre and dance, discusses devised theatre, what motivates humans to act, and why the Academy Awards really aren't that important.
Question: Why do humans act?
Answer: People are interested in acting because they want to understand how other people work, think and feel — be in someone else's shoes for a little while. Experiencing the world from someone else's viewpoint, then trying to interpret and share that with a group of other people and have a community experience — it's a very human desire. We're able to open up our perspectives on how we can live together.
Q: Your specialty is devised theatre. What is it and why is it important?
A: In devised theatre, as theatre artists, we ask: What do we have to say? What's going on in the world around us? What do we think about that? How do we reflect that? And we answer not just with words. We begin to explore movement, we begin to examine what images we can create on stage that are significant, that can really open up an idea, a question, a controversy to its fullest extent. In that way, you become not only an interpretive artist, but a creative artist as well. You have something to say and you find ways to say it in the most beautiful, eloquent, meaningful way possible.
Devised theater is a gift that reflects the whole liberal arts perspective. If you are an actor who goes to a conservatory, you'll learn how to do one thing well: You'll learn how to act, direct, design sets, costumes or lighting. But you won't necessarily be able to integrate those elements. And you won't have the depth of knowledge, like you do at Bucknell, to be able to say something. Your job will be strictly interpretive.
Q: How do actors know they've done good work?
A: You know you've done good work when it resonates with people. It's not, "You were great in that show," but it's, "That show was really powerful. It meant something to me personally and I keep thinking about it." It's when they keep talking about "it" — not you, but what you've created — for a long time afterward. It's made vibrations in your pond, and in the pond of your community.
Q: The Academy Awards are on Sunday. How important are awards to actors?
A: For most professional actors, awards are not important. They're nice, they make you feel part of a community — and to receive gratitude from that group of people, from your peers, is really exciting and humbling and reaffirming. But I think for the majority of actors, awards are not a part of why they're doing it in the first place. Actors aren't competitive, necessarily. Awards are not part of the art.
Actors come, especially younger actors, for the applause. It's nice to find something that you're good at and want to grow with that, and it's nice to be applauded for your hard work. But I don't think that's why actors stay. It's a tough career and it's a tough art form and it encompasses your whole life. Actors stay because they find some meaning in the work they create together. Actors stay because they find it meaningful to share what they have created and learned with their community. Actors stay because they recognize what they create has the power to make the world a better place. Once they recognize this, awards and applause become just a nice part of the journey, not the destination.
Interviewed by Heather Peavey Johns
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