As a theatre student, I love to find performance opportunities for recreation, and a lot of really cool opportunities for actors involve period acting in renaissance faires or other themed festivals. I have been in 2 different renaissance festivals in my life and have devoted over 6 years to these shows, and I always find them extremely enjoyable for the performers as well as gratifying for the patrons who want to escape the real world and live in a fantasy for a few hours. I never myself particularly thought acting in faires was something people assumed was “weird”, mainly because people pay to go and be entertained here. I personally see little difference between actors in theme parks pretending to be characters and having unique interactions with guests who pay to enter and these faires, because it is about the acting and the experience of paying to be entertained by a cast and story concept. I also grew up in the environment and have been doing this for such a significant portion of my life. However, I recently saw on my facebook, one of my friends from faire posted a picture of their ensemble in their faire costumes and someone commented something along the toned-down-to-sound-much-nicer-for-sharing-purposes lines of, “Wow, what a bunch of losers dressing up and acting like this. Seriously, what happened to you?”. I was flabbergasted when I saw this post. I quickly retorted, along with many of my fellow actors, about how it’s a little something called “acting”, and if he was that offended, he should probably stop watching TV, Movies, plays, and any other form of entertainment in which there are actors. Even still, this interaction really got me thinking.
People separate acting, as an “art”, or rather, acting as a credible profession, from acting, as a recreational activity. Now, by credible, I mean successful. Successful enough to be known because of it, and to be able to financially support yourself completely because of it. However, I think there is a fine line between what these people are doing So I’m going to lay out what I’ve observed in terms of acting as an art form:
Film/TV (fully career): Highly revered individuals
Broadway Theatre (fully career): Revered to a certain crowd, unnoticed by the rest
Professional Theatre (off-broadway, theatre companies) (career-based, typically): Accepted, mainly unnoticed by general non-theatre going public
Theme-Park acting (for revenue): Are you a princess? Not weird at all! Are you in a fuzzy suit? Yeah, you’re kinda weird.
Community Theatre (recreational): Not revered, but not necessarily thought of as too “weird”.
Period acting (recreational): We’re getting kind of weird here
Cosplay acting/ Live RPGs/ LARPing (recreational): Weird
This past weekend, I did something I never thought I’d do because it was something I personally always found “weird” myself – I joined a DnD group, better known as Dungeons and Dragons It’s actually pretty funny that this is something I never saw myself doing, because immediately once I joined a campaign, I felt like it was something I’d been doing my whole life.
DnD is a fun thing to plunge into, but it does take a lot of time and effort to develop a character. There are pages and pages of stats you have to roll for as well as deciding a race, a class, and a backstory. It took me a good week to come up with a character and get everything sorted out for the campaign. Once I started playing, I really enjoyed being able to follow along in a RPG journey. It almost felt as though I was watching a film or reading a book about adventure, except you’re there in 1st person. Needless to say, this game was something I think most actors would enjoy, because it really allows you to develop a character and use that to base decisions off of. This is actually very similar to character development I have done in many acting classes. A lot of time you have to develop a backstory much further than what is given to you in a script, and you have to know your character’s strengths and weaknesses, because that is what feels every single decision and impulse in a play. A character has to want something and always be trying to use different strategies to achieve what they want. I found this very similar to when building my DnD character, and I think playing has even helped my impulse and character building skills as an actor.
Acting aside, I also found this TedxTalk about how playing DnD can benefit people, even who aren’t actors or need roleplaying skills outside of playing the game.
Even furthermore, I find it interesting because DnD, apart from all of the character building and roleplaying, is just that- a game. People do not think it’s weird to play Life, or Monopoly, or all sorts of random phone games, but a game like this automatically makes you a “nerd” or a “freak”. I myself thought DnD would be weird because I grew up hearing it talked about with that connotation. However, I soon realized this is not the case, and even looking at old commercials for the game, it seems to me it was originally marketed as a family game anyone could enjoy playing.
Going further into the idea of roleplay and performance within game, I think another item to tackle is LARPing, or Live-Action Roleplaying. This is quite literally improv acting and battle, either made-up entirely or based on already existing characters. This pushes even further from playing a game in character, but going completely into an area in character and acting as the character would in a battle. This is interesting to me that people find it so strange because it is in it’s raw form, acting. These people who LARP are doing what we do at the ren faire, and what we as actors do onstage. But then, why is it so looked down upon? Is it because it is not permissible without the confines of the stage or faire-grounds or amusement park? Is it too close to the real world, so having fun acting for pleasure becomes “weird” because it takes place without a defined building or advertised inclusive environment for fantasy?
So then, why is performance so revered on the big screen, TV, or even on a stage, but considered something that makes you weird if you do it as a recreational activity in day-to-day life?
I am actually reminded of Thompson’s Beauty and the Freak article. In the article, in reference to beauty pageants and freak shows, Thompson states, “The shows and pageants accentuate freaks’ and beauties’ bodily particularity, while their watchers function as an undifferentiated aggregate. The spectacle positions the viewers in the realm of the universal while it sentences the viewed to the world of the particular. Because spectators only look, do not touch, or interact, or reveal themselves to the spectacles, these are one-way encounters controlled to guarantee the privilege of anonymity for the viewer and to highlight the visibility of the viewed.”
I thought this quote was interesting and exceedingly relevant to my analysis of this issue. On the one hand, even apart from bodies and the way they are viewed, we can view these level of actors as socially beauties and freaks. Beauties are the beloved TV and film actors, and freaks are our LARPers and role playing “nerds”. But why? Well, Thompson does bring up a very interesting point by saying viewers can watch, but are not forced to interact in terms of a spectacle show. This is exactly what it is like watching TV or Film. Viewers purely watch and there is no potential threat of interaction. Theatre is almost the same way, especially large, expensive shows. You can go to see Wicked on Broadway comfortably knowing you won’t be forced to get on stage yourself. However, as we go down the command towards the “Freaks”, I notice, the threat of potential interaction increases. In smaller theaters, there is chance for audience interaction. Characters in a theme park, you’re definitely interacting. DnD is choosing to interact for the sake of a game, and LARPing is envisioning an entire fantasy realm in a public non-fantasy setting, which could be very intimidating to people who do not want to actively roleplay.
In all, I think it is interesting to see that the potential for being known as a “freak” or “weird” for interests must truly stem from one’s own fear of actively being forced to participate in that interest. We find it weird because something about it makes us uneasy, and I think in terms of performance, it is usually the idea one may have to themselves perform.