I like to consider how we humans developed certain things. it makes sense that we decided to find different ways of preparing the food that we eat, but what prompted an ancient person to paint figures on the wall of a cave? Babies seem to naturally sing, but how did people figure out how to build musical instruments and then invent a system of notes to record tunes? I can envision an individual of long ago making a speech, but what prompted someone to create a story and then act it out? We really are an amazing lot that goes so far beyond merely surviving like most of our fellow creatures on the planet.
Acting is a particularly human invention. I suspect that it first came about as a way of teaching. Conveying information is much more fun and memorable if it comes in the form of a story with different characters. Virtually every civilization has used acting in one form or another either as a form of spreading beliefs or just for pure entertainment. There have always been individuals among us who are particularly adept at demonstrating emotions with facial expressions and voice. Ancient Greeks, Romans and primitive groups all enjoyed acting in some form or another.
Over time acting has become an art form. We have geniuses who learn and perfect techniques much as athletes practice the skills of their trade. While some actors appear to have been born with the ability to play a thousand different roles, the best are continually training and refining their talents. Some become legendary for their ability to totally transform themselves into believable characters unlike themselves. Like Fred Astaire they make what they do look easy, but anyone who has attempted to act understands how difficult it really is.
I have a grandson who spent four years working with his high school theater group. I watched him evolve from silly roles to playing serious parts that brought the audience to tears. He began with a bit of ham in his bones, but he really became convincing in his roles after years of direction from his very talented teacher. Acting is not something that just anyone can do. It takes dedication and hard work. It is way more than just having a pretty face. Lots of people dream of making it big, but few actually make it.
My favorite actors are able to convey a world of emotion in a single twitch of the eye or the phrasing of a sentence. Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks are so good at such things that they probably merit an Academy award with every performance. Hard work and charisma have transformed both men into legendary actors who command the screen whenever the camera follows them.
There are some actors who can take an ordinary part in a subpar film to greatness that would not be there without their presence. Sir Laurence Olivier was one of those people as was Jimmy Stewart. Some actors become famous simply because they are likable and they play roles in movies that people may enjoy, but few think of them as being geniuses in their trade. Others push themselves to go beyond the ways that their fans see them. Charlize Theron is way more than a beautiful, sexy woman. She is able to believably transform herself into a monstrous murderer. Doing his takes more than just raw talent.
My grandson sometimes misses his acting days. He studied to be a computer engineer and has a wonderful job that he enjoys and that will sustain him for years to come. Part of him thinks of joining a small acting company where he might perform once again, but for now he does not have the time that it takes to prepare for a play. The work on such things is far more demanding that most of us realize. It takes hours of memorizing lines and rehearsing until every second of the production goes smoothly.
I sometimes hear people ignoring commentary from actors as though what they do is simply a frivolity that has little value in our lives. They complain that actors become unfairly wealthy for “playing” rather than earning a real living. Those who say such things really do not understand that most people involved in acting never reach the heights of the stars even as they toil away hoping to one day be discovered.
I knew a man who managed to make a living in Hollywood playing small parts. He had a rather impressive resume of movies and television programs in which he became minor characters with only a few minutes on the screen. His work kept a roof over his head and food on his table but not a great deal more. He loved his occupation but often bemoaned the realities of low pay, grueling work under the lights, and little recognition. When I once told him about my grandson’s love of acting he urged me not to encourage the young man to act for a living. He spoke of the anxieties and rejections that would be his lot in life if he followed such a dream. He told me that the biggest stars who work regularly surrender their lives to the craft and to the public. He said that it was a very difficult life that required dedication and thick skin and more often than not brought very little in rewards.
I suppose that it is in our human natures to be creative enough to have invented acting. As with our athletes and scientists and engineers and writers and teachers and doctors we sort each other out into categories that emphasize our strengths. I admire actors, not because I believe that they are somehow magical but because I truly understand how difficult their work actually is. I thank them for the wonderful moments of entertainment that they have provided me. They are true artists and craftspersons to whom we owe a bit of respect. If done well their work causes us to learn and to think. In a way they are visual teachers whom we need to satisfy our own inquisitive and artistic natures. Life would be rather dull without them.