First Person, Fourth Wall

6 05 2010

In theater and stage acting, we are told never to break the fourth wall, the one ‘removed’ so the drama can be viewed through the procenium arch. Or simply, you never want to let on that there is an audience out there (narrators are an exception). Likewise with on camera dramatic and comedic acting, you’re told to never look at the camera. (news, commercial and talk show hosts always look into the camera). And with most kinds of acting, you generally play a character other than yourself.

So how does someone who learned the traditional form make the transition to first person direct address? With news or hosting experience this would not be a big leap, but many performers don’t do news, and many on camera personalities do relatively little acting, in the traditional sense.

But now, especially with YouTube shows and reality TV, actors must break both rules- break the fourth wall and play the role of yourself. Is there a method or Meisner technique for this? Younger actors have grown up with this paradigm, but actors over 30 really only learned the traditional way. That’s all there was. TV news was a different world.

For older cats, we can no longer hide behind the 4th wall, the character we are portraying or product we are selling. This is an on camera confessional, all the insecurities laid bare for all to see. There is no live audience, no camera crew or even camera per se, just a little red light and the ominous, HAL-like all seeing eye to capture, judge and maybe even kill. Eye to eye, the one to the many, but still one to one.

There will always be stage and film acting, in comedies and dramas that leave the actors’ identities concealed and the fourth wall intact. But the shift has been made to first person direct address, and we must adapt – and bring to this new paradigm the relevant strengths and qualities from the traditional ways – so that we may keep pace and thrive.

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