An Actor's Life for Me

by on 週三, 15 二月 2012 評論
Chen Xinhong (26), is an actor affiliated with the Golden Bough Theatre Troupe  (5 years of stage experience, 1 year at Golden Bough Theatre Troupe)

I am from Taizhong and I went to Taizhong First Senior High School, where I always got good grades and I enjoyed studying. However, after joining the school’s National Music Club and learning how to play zhongruan (Chinese alto lute), because of my deep commitment to the club’s affairs, I gradually drifted away from the world of books. In my 3rd grade, when I didn’t feel like studying anymore, I saw this drama course at the National Taiwan University of Arts. At the time I wasn’t even very clear about what it was, but I registered for entry exams anyway, and as a result, I passed them! In fact, before that time I had never seen a single stage play.

After joining the drama department, I found that moved afar from my expectations and speculations. Once, after going through a rough patch, I suspended my studies. In my first year there were virtually no performances and until the second semester we hardly touched things relevant to the course, so I decided to work at a movie theatre. In the second grade I thought I should give myself a bit of challenge, so I took up an acting job outside the school, thanks to which I gradually developed an interest for stage performance. Actually, most of the students from our department have gone through a similar process of fumbling our way through the dark. Most of us felt quite confused, so we actively tried doing many different things. Anyway, the proportion of my classmates going into theatre after graduation was not high at all, only roughly 30 or 40%.

Learning to Play off the Audience

An actor’s professional skills are accumulated from everyday self-training. We have to learn to multitask, to watch our appearance and posture anytime and anywhere. Let’s take me as an example. Because I have a habit of hunching, I have to make sure that I hold my head high and upright at all times. It is similar to practicing reading a newspaper aloud while holding a pen in your mouth. Biting a pen helps you to get used to straining your lips while speaking. Or let’s take learning how to “cry”. I am in fact a very easily moved person, but on a stage I could never weep. Thus I attempted to train myself to tear easier. Only later I have discovered that the reason why I couldn’t cry on the stage was because I was not concentrated enough, I didn’t enter my character’s mental state deep enough. However, when I devote myself wholeheartedly during the entire play, the emotions are coming out naturally. Before, I wasn’t experienced enough to understand this principle. I was trying to find ways to think of something sad in order to help myself, but my efforts were always to no avail. It is because emotions that are faked can be easily seen through and can’t touch anybody.

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What gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment as an actor is when the audience either laughs or cries after your performance, it is really touching. While standing on the stage during a performance, you can actually feel the mood of the audience, although it’s very subtle. In a theatre, the play’s plot is fictional, but the emotions definitely must be real; the audience that is watching a play is real, but sometimes we must pretend that they’re not there at all; because we must often direct our bodies toward the audience in order to make the reception easier for them, our dialogues and postures are also not realistic, because a usual dialogue does not look like that. It is thus a constant transformation between fictional and genuine. To sum up, while on a stage it is impossible not to feel the audience and so it is impossible for the audience not to feel the actors, and what is really interesting is the communication between them.

For instance, today you are performing slipping after stepping on a banana peel. If the whole room bursts into laughter, it can give you a huge boost. However if you fail to entertain the audience and they remain awkwardly silent, it can also influence your next performance. When I first came across such a situation I was completely devastated, but now it’s not so bad; if they don’t find a joke funny you just need to continue the show.

Determination that is Keener with Every Setback

In my acting career I had one major setback. I was never very good at acting and after going through a long period of fumbling and practicing, only in the second semester of my fourth grade I got things straight in my head. It was like suddenly I knew what acting is all about. My classmates and teachers say that I improved a lot and my self-confidence also started building slowly at that time. Nevertheless, during the last class of some course the teacher gathered everyone to sit in a circle to talk about our plans after graduation and said: “I think that among the 12 students in our course there are only two people suited for performing”. I was not among the two people that the teacher had mentioned. It brought me, originally full of confidence, straight from heaven down to hell in a flash; at once I felt really depressed. Later I thought I should have said to him: “you say I am not suited to acting, but I will prove it to you and one day I will be good enough to perform with you”. As a result, to this day I have always carried within me an unwillingness to admit defeat and a passion for acting.

After retiring, I participated in a casting for The First Lily, staged by the Ping Fong Acting Troupe at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, and as a result I was successfully recruited. Out of my acting experiences, this was up till now the most accomplishing and the most beautiful one. Although I only played a supporting role as a clan warrior, the play was staged almost 200 times, which cultivated in the entire team a profound revolutionary spirit, and the whole staff felt like a family. The best thing is that thanks to that play I have met a Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe. They often took us, Han people, to perform traditional aboriginal ritual dances and songs. From their bodies I could see their love for own traditions and a sense of mission to pass on the aboriginal culture. It was very touching to me and it also influenced my later decision to join the Golden Bough Theatre.

The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe made me realize that I should probably also make effort for the sake of my own culture. I am Taiwanese, yet I can’t speak the Taiwanese language (Hoklo), and the Golden Bough Theatre requires its members to speak good Taiwanese and to perform local Taiwanese stories. I really need to work harder on these things; it is what I expect from myself for the future.

Translated from the Chinese by Witek Chudy

Raining (陳雨君)

人籟論辨月刊前編輯
Ex-editor of Renlai Monthly

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