Art: The attempt by a person or group of people to communicate to an audience an aspect of the human condition. Good Art succeeds in communicating an important and timely aspect of the human condition.
Theatre: A ritualistic form of performing art with a beginning, middle, and end; also the physical space in which such a performance takes place. Good Theatre entertains.
Drama: Theatre that presents a story within a context of fantasy. Good Drama tells a story that resonates with the soul, creating through cognitive dissonance, a powerful experience in the audience.
Actor: An artist who portrays a character in a story in a drama. A Good Actor portrays the character honestly and openly, creating an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual link with the audience through sympathy, stimulating and exercising the communal capacity for compassion.
Cognitive Dissonance: The psychological principle that states that if an individual pretends a set of circumstances is true and real, regardless of their knowledge to the contrary, they will be emotionally affected as if it were true. Cognitive Dissonance is dependent upon the willing suspension of disbelief.
The Willing Suspension of Disbelief: The voluntary participation in the drama by the audience and actors. How much the participants pretend that the story is really happening.
On The Story
The most fundamental element of a dramatic theatrical production is the story. How good the story is will determine the potential power of the production. If it is a great story, the production has the potential to be very powerful. If it is a bad story, then no matter how skillfully it is presented, the production will be limited in the impact it has on the audience.
There are two types of stories; Comedies, and Tragedies.
A comedy is a story in which the protagonist (main character) is presented with a problem and succeeds by the end of the story in overcoming the problem and lives a better life afterward.
A tragedy is a story in which the protagonist is presented with a problem and is overcome by the problem, often ending in the protagonist dying, or being trapped in a much more limited life afterward.
There are two ways to tell if a story is good. 1) If you like it. 2) If it is old.
If you like a story it is probably because it contains a truth about the human condition that resonates with your soul. Something in your soul recognizes that the story contains an important lesson, moral, or reminder about what it is to be human that your soul needs at that time.
However, it is possible for a story to have a strong carnal attraction, producing pleasure through its appeal to the senses. This type of story relys upon sensationalism for it’s power and should therefore be classed as pornography.
If a story is old then it has survived for a reason. The human imagination is constantly weaving stories. Of the stories that actually get told, very few are deemed good by the audience that receives them. And of the stories that are deemed good, very few are deemed good by subsequent generations, many being dependent on the socio-political atmosphere, pop culture, and fads of the time in which they were originally told. So, if a story survives many generations it is because it has intrinsic value. It is good.
On Cognitive Dissonance
The success of a drama is proportional to the depth of the cognitive dissonance established. Two sets of circumstances contribute to the depth of cognitive dissonance; the atmosphere in the house and the elements of production.
The atmosphere in the house determines how safe, comfortable and relaxed the audience feels. The more safe, comfortable and relaxed the audience feels, the more willing they will be to suspend their disbelief and enter wholeheartedly into the story being presented. Familiar elements of the ritual of theatrical presentation such as the purchasing of tickets, receiving a program, dimmed lights, soft music, refreshments, promote this feeling.
The elements of production promote the depth of cognitive dissonance by engaging the imagination of the audience, encouraging them to pretend. Language, costumes, set, properties, and lighting that stimulate the imagination and invite the audience to participate in the creation of the world in which the play takes place contribute to the power of the production.
On The Actor
The actor must be both legible and sympathetic.
The legibility of an actor is dependent on a set of physical skills that include projection, diction, vocal agility, coordination, stage mannerisms, and focus. Projection is the ability to be heard and seen at a distance. Diction is precision and clarity in speaking. Vocal agility is the use of a broad range of pitch and inflection. Stage mannerisms are mannerisms that turn the actor out to the audience, such as gesturing with the upstage hand, kneeling on the down stage knee, etc. Focus is the ability to influence and respond to the attention of the audience. These skills function best when they are mastered and completely subconscious, allowing the actor to consciously work on being sympathetic.
The sympathy of an actor results from the actor actively engaging with the other actors and the audience (the other). The actor/character engages the other by throwing their attention out on the other and by attempting to vocally and physically manipulate the other, pursuing the actor/character’s goals, continually evaluating their success, and reevaluating their tactics. This throwing of attention outward on the other and active interchange creates the sympathetic link with the other. This active struggle between engaged actor/characters draws the audience into the story, creating the sympathetic link with them and deepening their cognitive dissonance.
On the Elements of Design
The elements of design constitute the physical conditions under which the production takes place and includes the set, costumes, properties, lighting, sound and special effects. They should stimulate the imagination, support the action, elucidate the story and illustrate the relationships between the actor/characters.
In order to stimulate the imagination, they should leave something to it. Cinema and Television do realism far better than theatre can ever do. Cinema and Television are also finished forms. They don’t rely in the participation of an audience. They are the same each time they are viewed. Dramatic theatre, in contrast, requires the active participation of the audience to exist. The audience is a co-creator in a theatrical event and a dramatic performance without an audience is just a rehearsal. So the design of a play should be like an unfinished painting, leaving space for the audience to complete the picture. This is critical, for the power of the impact on the audience is dependant on cognitive dissonance, and cognitive dissonance is dependant on the active participation of the audience. If the imagination of the audience has nothing to do, the audience will remain passive, and power of the production will be severly limited.
The design has to support the action. If the action of the play includes the use of a particular property, set piece, etc. then the design must include that item. That item does not have to be realistic, nor does it even have to be real. But the design of the production must include a means of representing or presenting the needed item. It may be that the item is to be mimed. In that case, mime is part of the design of the production.
The goal of a dramatic theatrical production is to tell a story. The design can help tell the story by visually representing local, character status, scenic conditions, etc.
The relationships between characters can be represented in the design through color, shape, style, etc, of the costumes the actor/characters wear, the properties that they use, and the physical relation in space determined by the set of the actor/character’s bodies..