mikhail bakhtin + the stage

One of the pitfalls of stage acting (and to a lesser degree film acting) is reciting lines as though one has memorized them and read them from a page. This happens when the actor has not sufficiently internalized the language. There are numerous techniques to strengthen one's ability to internalize language for the sake of the stage. It would be interesting to see such a technique adapted from the literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin.

And by "language" here we mean what Bakhtin meant by language: not language in the common sense (French, Italian, Russian) but by all lexicons arrived at over time & through usage. We mean, e.g., the language of the stockbroker, the Utopian Socialist, the punk artist as much as or more than we mean the language spoken by the Francophone, the Russophone, etc.

The emblem of fluency in any language is not just breadth of vocabulary but ease of usage. To be fluent in English is to know when to say "How do you do," "A pleasure to meet you," "What's up, bro?" etc. Knowing when to say these things is not a matter of knowing the meaning of the word "pleasure," for instance, but weighing the sound, cadence and connotation of that word with past experience and textbook knowledge.

To put it another way, if one wants to render an utterance comprehensible as being from and of oneself, it is a matter of speaking that utterance without quotation marks. It's as if say, "I am not saying this because I read it in a book and understand it intellectually to be the proper thing to say in this situation, but because I know it and feel it to be appropriate." Such an utterance Bakhtin called "self-persuasive," in that one who speaks self-persuasive language not only knows and feels it to be true and appropriate but the utterance, once spoken, reinforces its own truth (or at least the confidence in its own truth).

What may be interesting with regards to acting technique is using Bakhtinian theory to speak not only utterances which a character considers self-persuasive but to discover and ferret out those utterances which she does not consider self-persuasive; that is, language she's borrowing from other sources to parse and navigate new and unfamiliar situations (which happens very often in theatre!).

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