Peter Stein, in 1981, on acting:
Actors — all actors — naturally tend to protect their characters. As far as I’m concerned, an actor who wouldn’t do that would be seriously compromised. So you [as a director] need to find a way of balancing that tendency. The actor has to work through the dark sides of the character. On top of that, every actor has the ability and a tendency to use what can be called effectual shortcuts, cutting short for effect longer experiential processes or a longer period of waiting for something.These actorly tendencies have to be addressed. It’s necessary to make self-criticism and a relativizing of one’s choices a part of the acting process. To achieve that without losing power, the power of actors performing in the moment, is a central focus of my work. It is a great joy for me when an actor gets to the point where he can do his thing with total commitment, using the means of empathy, of emotional investment, of emotionally exploring every aspect of the character, of really getting into the figure, of completely tearing himself up emotionally, or whatever, total commitment, but at the same time can keep watching himself. That’s how the necessary balance is achieved.

[Asked whether this is a way of blending the West German acting tradition, associated by Stein with Fritz Kortner, and Brecht’s perspectives:]
Well, Kortner goes totally in the one direction [of empathy and feeling -through], whereas I think that it is possible and necessary to assess a process you’re in, and to turn that assessment itself into something that gets expressed or communicated to the audience. Of course that doesn’t lead to the sort of extreme choices you’re likely to get from people who totally throw themselves into a role. But we still try to establish the characters forcefully, except without letting the actor lose sight of himself, his position, his context, his condition, the specifics of his own situation that relativize what he’s doing. … We use a whole arsenal of theatrical gestures designed to enable the actor to establish and maintain a formal and even mental distance from the emotional process of the moment, a kind of mental guard-rail.


From Dieter Kranz, Positionen: Strehler, Planchon, Koun, Dario Fo, Langbacka, Stein. Gespräche mit Regisseuren des europäischen Theaters, Berlin (Ost): Henschelverlag, 1981, 189-90.


Leave a Reply