Acting and its refusal in theatre and film.

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Theses / Dissertations
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Thesis discipline
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury. Theatre and Film Studies
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McCurdy, Marian Lea

This thesis examines works of theatre and film that explore a refusal of acting. Acting has traditionally been considered as something false or as pretending, in opposition to everyday life, which has been considered as something real and truthful. This has resulted in a desire to refuse acting, evident in the tradition of the anti-theatrical prejudice where acting is considered to be seductive and dangerous. All the works that I examine in this thesis are relatively recent and all of them explore the paradox that in our (postmodern) times a gradual reversal has occurred where everyday life is seen as more and more false or as pretending or simulating (ie. containing acting and theatricality) and conversely, acting in theatre and film has become the place where people have begun searching for reality and truth and where ‘acting’ and pretending in life can be revealed and refused. The result of this paradox - and what I also discuss as a confusion of acting and living - is that the place in which acting can be refused has shifted; the ethical desire to refuse acting (in theatre and in life) is turning up in the aesthetic domain of acting itself. In my first chapter I study works by filmmaker István Szabó and playwright Werner Fritsch, who represent the desire to refuse acting in the context of fascism where theatrical and filmic spectacle was used by the Nazis to seduce the population and where actors during this period also experienced an inability to separate their political and artistic lives. In my second chapter I look at the way Genet’s The Balcony and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution explore the desire to refuse acting as a result of a confusion of acting and living in the context of sexual (sadomasochistic) role-play. And in my third chapter I examine the way Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls, von Trier’s The Idiots and Affleck’s I’m Still Here represent a refusal of acting and theatricality altogether, responding to the way that ‘acting’ in life may have become an all-pervasive substitute (a simulation) for living. Foundational to the development of this thesis and a major source of material is my analysis of three theatrical productions with Free Theatre Christchurch, directed by Peter Falkenberg, in which I was involved as an actor and in which a refusal of acting was explored.

acting, theatre, film, refusal, theatricality, ethical vs aesthetic, anti-theatrical prejudice, devil, seduction, fascist spectacle, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, simulation, suicide, Szabó, Fritsch, Falkenberg, Free Theatre Christchurch, Genet, Artaud, sadomasochistic role-play, ritual, tango, Ang Lee, Žižek, Warhol, happenings, reality television, von Trier, Affleck, Abramović
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
Copyright Marian Lea McCurdy