Actor Or Performer Or Artist: What Is The Difference?
I trained as an actor and found much to my disgust that while most companies claim to want to find new and fresh talent, all they really want at the end of the day is just a performer. By performer, I mean someone who will just rehash what the last artist before them did.
It is my own personal belief that an artist is someone who will bring their own ideas, colour and interpretation to a role.
I can remember my own personal battle against a certain director who just wanted me to don the same old costume and wig and then (and I quote) ‘Go through the motions.’ Many a time I have heard an actor complain to his fellow thesp with the words ‘Why do we do it!!!?’ There is nothing more fascinating than working with a colleague who you know possesses mountains of talent and who will (given the chance) act everyone else off the stage.
The profession is chock full of performers who lost their passion years ago and just want to earn a wage and then head off to the local sports bar ready to bore everyone senseless about their so-called glittering career.
While it is a wonderful challenge to pick up a role that many actors have played in order to bring your own interpretation to it, I, however, find it more rewarding to create and establish a role for the first time, a role that other artists will go on to play. Often an actor or artist will find that the one obstacle standing in their way will always be the director. It is a sad and thoroughly annoying fact that directors cannot direct traffic and that anyone calling themselves an artistic director is usually an ageing and out of shape former dancer or pudgy acrobat which also means that they possess very little or absolutely no artistic temperament at all.
Having once worked with a particular circus company I can remember wasting almost a year of creation (pilates and then being sent to lunch) and then suddenly being forced to hit the gas and ‘create theatrical gold’ just two weeks before our grand opening.
Imagine my frustration at having to be directed by a drunk and doped up individual who would routinely collapse around 3 pm every day after singing French Canadian songs acapella. Mercifully the stage manager would wrench the microphone out of his hand and then carry on with the show’s technical rehearsal.
That said, after pulling ‘theatrical and artistic gold’ out of my character’s backside, my ego was beautifully inflated by none other than Beatles and Apple legend Sir George Martin who told me that he loved and respected my work and sincerely hoped that I would sign with the show for another year.
Five years was a long time to work on the same show and it was certainly the longest that I had ever been with a show. Being an artist/actor it was certainly a struggle to do the same thing night after night. However, one often has to weigh up what is more important – Money or one’s sanity. After emigrating to the United States and touring the nation with a low budget theatrical tour of HG Wells’ Invisible Man it was certainly a huge relief to be able to relocate to Las Vegas where thanks to Cirque Du Soleil funds was able to live happily and comfortably.
But after five years my artistic inner child was screaming for me to seek greater challenges. While doing the same show for five years had been good for my bank balance it had not helped me stay in shape as an actor.
The problem with many large entertainment behemoths is that while they might search the best of the best of actors, dancers or acrobats, the fact of the matter is, once they have got you under contract, the job that they give you may not demand much of you. It’s almost like hiring a Speciality or Celebrity Chef and then just asking him to boil a pan of soup for you. Thus the artist just thinks of the money and settles for less, less being the monotony of being a first rate performer.
That said, there are many individuals (mainly former acrobats or dancers) who are only too happy to zip themselves up in a character costume and go through the motions.
And while what they are doing might look easy it will not convey anything artistically at all. I can remember trying to explain to a certain group of artistic directors that while they may not expect much of me in their show they will have to employ actors in order to convey the nuances of their show’s characters.
The point being that while what I was doing looked easy it only looked easy because I understood the difference’s between artists, actors and performers. The point being that when it comes to casting a show the golden rules must always apply – actors must act, dancers must dance, acrobats must stick to acrobatics, writers must write and directors (if they can) must direct. If one sticks to those golden rules then all will remain well. The problem always happens when artists try and cross over, though I will always support individuals of certain talents exploring the skills of other talents. The fact that as long as artists or performers are paid well (and they should be) they will never or very rarely get off their comfortable backsides and explore other skills and art forms.
Being an actor I am quite familiar with one minute performing in an arena in front of thousands of people, and then all of a sudden being paid a pittance of a wage to be performing in front of twenty to thirty people in a studio theatre.
Me I am a purest, not exactly a member of the Acting Taliban but I do believe that what we do defines who and what we are. If one is a working and living jobbing actor who gets paid for his pains then he is a professional actor and therefore an artist.
Recently I toured the US with William Shakespeare’s excellent play Much Ado About Nothing. I consider myself ‘old school.’ that is, I believe that an actor should be able to not only portray a role but also bring his own personal stamp on it. While I have never considered myself to be anywhere near the talent and genius of Lawrence Olivier or Richard Burton, I did enjoy rather cheekily bringing my own personal interpretation to the role of Benedick.
I guess that it was a little cheap, but every time that I kissed Beatrice on stage I couldn’t help raising a laugh from the audience by raising my leg up as if I was the ‘King of Camp’ or Larry Grayson – (Google him.)
I have been very fortunate with my career to have worked alongside both theatre and film greats such as John Hurt, Michael Harbour and Jonathan Pryce.
Hurt’s interpretation of The Fool in Lawrence Oliver’s King Lear was titanic, Michael N Harbour’s portrayal of John Proctor in The Crucible was the best I have ever seen and just being able to work opposite the amazing performance of Jonathan Pryce’s Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady taught me more in 14 months than my entire six years of drama training. And only the other day while walking down Oxford Circus I came upon the legendary Terence Stamp. Humble enough to stop and speak to a jobbing unknown like me he shared with me his thoughts on filming the movie The Limey.
Friends, you will forgive me if I do not share this conversation with you, suffice to say I gave him my card and suggested that he should watch the movie that I made for ten thousand dollars of my own money. A film that did not generate funds but that did win me a much-coveted award. That said as any filmmaker will tell you ‘You can’t eat awards!’ And though I was much heralded for my voice, hard work and filmmaking abilities by none other than British Actor and Playwright Steven Berkoff, I am yet to make any measure of financial return on any of my films.
So, I am 33 pages through learning a fifty page one man stage play An Evening With Ronnie Brixton that will soon premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Theatre Festival.
Yes, at the tender young age of 48 I am embarking on a new journey, tired with waiting for the phone to ring and equally tired of quite literally singing and clowning for my supper. I am attempting to earn and small and modest income from a play which I have written with my good American colleague Byron Tidwell.
Yes, in two weeks I will be relocating back to the US for good and will also be giving my all on stage somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. Tired, broke and hungry I might be but I will, however, be holding to my true values of being ‘An Artist!’
That said it can become awfully tiring and miserable being broke, hungry and lonely for one’s art. And therefore it is my sincere hope that once I have showcased my play in Hollywood that some good entertainment manager of a Las Vegas hotel & casino might give me and my play a residency in Sin-City. Not that I am about to sell out my artistic integrity of course but years ago in 2006 when my agent informed me that I had a choice between earning my spurs carrying a spear on stage at Britain’s National Theatre or painting my face orange as a clown in Las Vegas I didn’t give it much thought. I just thought of the money, the 24 hrs drinking, the legalised prostitution and headed hook line and sinker for Sin-City! Hmm… I rest my case.
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