Monday, September 22, 2008
COMPOSITION FOR TWO
How did two people arrange themselves for viewing by the public? Drama needed a different aesthetic than everyday portraiture. This first photo is a portrait of a husband and wife: this is a record for posterity, showing the sterling worth and solid respectability of the pair. On the stage, attitudes had to show dramatic energy and identify character and emotion. The body was almost never held in a straight line or presented face on as in this portrait.
Two actors working together had to direct themselves toward the audience while maintaining the illusion each was engaged with his partner. Lighting was darker than we are used to; dialogue was not electronically enhanced; an actor turning his back, or even his profile, to the audience could lose the connection he'd worked for.
Ada Rehan and James Lewis are totally engaged with each other, despite Miss Rehan's reading a magazine and Mr. Lewis's back turned toward her. The two actors' bodies lean in parallel toward the same direction. The "S" curve I've mentioned many times is created in both by the turning of the head away from the torso. Arms and legs are held in tension. Especially Mr. Lewis's arms speak of a reaction to something said: shoulders slightly raised, hands opened, but not relaxed. These two are connecting with each other but directing that connection straight out to us.
Here is full body contact between the actors, but we have no doubt it is done for us, not each other. Miss Broughton especially links us with her eyes.
Something a little more passionate, but still a piece of theatrical architecture: bodies weighted on one leg only, arms carefully curved, and facial expressions totally accessible to the viewer. (The actors are McKee Rankin and Lillie Eldridge.)
And here, a very nice dynamic shot from Much Ado About Nothing: John Toole and Teresa Furt. Miss Furt's backward glance is embued with irritation, thanks to her raised arm and downward glance. Mr. Toole uses the "pointing finger" -- used only in admonition or accusation. His body line parallels hers. There is a dramatic connection shown with parallel stances, but the repulsion between the two is communicated by arms and facial expression. We can infer from this still moment a story's beginning (two people with diametrically opposed attitudes or opinions meeting face-to-face) and its end (either the parallel lines will triumph and the pair will embrace, or the conflict will intensify and they will separate angrily, following hints of arms and face), while the climactic middle is frozen before us. Victorian actors were trained to present a continual series of these speaking snapshots on the stage.