Interview With Amanda Watson–Emmett

Hi Emmett, 

Thank you for your thought provoking questions! I’ve done my best to answer them. Please let me know if you have any follow up questions or want any clarifications. 

1. How would you best define acting?

I really like Stanislavsky’s definition of acting. He claimed that acting is “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Alternately, Erica Arvold described it to my theater class last year as “pretending like you’re not pretending.” I think both of these definitions are excellent. 

2. Is there a particular acting method that you use more often when performing?

I’ve worked with many different methods and teachers. My technique has always been a hybrid of several different methods that I find useful. Meisner and Stanislavsky heavily influenced my time in college. I have also drawn a lot from Uta Hagen. I would highly recommend reading one of her books. Either “Respect for Acting” or “A Challenge for the Actor.” I would also recommend “A Practical Handbook for the Actor” by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previtio, and Scott Zigler. I’m not finding it at JMRL but UVA or Amazon will probably have it. 

Important Tangent: All of my answers are based in the way I was taught theater. My theater experience is rooted in the Western traditions of theater. These traditions stretch back to the Greek comedies and tragedies. Current American theater methods are based in making acting seem as realistic as possible. They are by no means the only or the best way of acting. Theater is essentially using performance to tell a story. Every culture has ways of storytelling, and I encourage you to be open minded about all of them. In Japan the tradition of Noh (and Kyogen) theater dates back to the 14th century. Method is incredibly important to Noh theater. Although, it differs totally from what American actors would consider “Method Acting.” I just found out that Mrs. Goodbar studies lion dancing (a traditional form of dance from China.) I believe Mr. Harrison is planning a segment on oral storytelling this year. Oral storytelling (arguably the essence of theater) is an important part of almost every culture. So, both of them might be interesting resources.

3. What role do one’s immediate surroundings have on their performance?

One’s immediate surroundings have a significant and very practical impact on one’s performance. While we are creating an imaginary world around us, we also inhabit our immediate real physical space. To act convincingly you need to be present in the moment, which means being aware of and acknowledging the things that surround you. There are also a lot of practical considerations depending on the space. How you pitch your voice, position yourself for the audience, even the size of your movements are dependent on the space. There are a lot of suitable locations for a performance (possibly wherever you decide), however every performance will affect and be affected by its surroundings.  

4.How much of a role do you think script analysis plays in the development of the actor (e.g. like if an actor discovers something about their character during analysis)?

I personally find script analysis essential for the development of a role. It’s also one of my favorite parts. For me, those moments of discovery are one of the most exciting parts of acting. Sometimes they happen as you’re reading, thinking, or talking about the script. Sometimes they come later when you’re working on a scene and the analysis you did earlier suddenly clicks. Either way, they help you to understand the character and situation (which is important when you’re pretending not to pretend.) Every actor, designer, and director needs to think about and analyze the script. It’s the blueprint for the show. Script analysis is an essential tool for any actor.

5.What positive developments do you see in your students who act in plays (e.g. following directions, speaking loudly, having fun, etc)

I see a lot of positive developments in my students who act in plays. Their public speaking and technical skills improve. That includes projecting, learning how to position oneself, gestures, etc. However, the most important positive developments are outside of the technical skills. They include: collaborating as a group, gaining confidence and gaining empathy. Many of my students also learn how to better handle stressful situations (an extremely important life skill.) Having fun and the emotional high after a successful performance are some of the rewards for their hard work. Although, I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of them as skills. 

6. Would you consider theater to be an empathy building art form?

YES! Definitely! Certainly there are individuals in theater who are self absorbed and lacking in empathy. However, on the whole, and especially at a community and school level, I think theater is an excellent way of building empathy. It involves working closely with others and lots of creative collaboration. It also involves analyzing stories, characters, and the human condition. I think theater can be an excellent way of building tolerance, and understanding in those who create it. Theater is also a way of telling and spreading all sorts of stories. Theater performances allow audiences to empathize with characters that are different from them, and experience lives/stories that they might not encounter otherwise.

7. Lastly, what has working in theater taught you about yourself?

This might be your trickiest question. I’m constantly learning more about myself through my involvement teaching, directing, designing, and performing. I’ve learned that I enjoy bouncing ideas off other people, that it’s important for me to pause sometimes in the midst of chaos, and that goldfish are helpful for getting me through tech week. Theater has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I directed my siblings in plays as a kid, met my husband during auditions for a play, and have spent most of my professional life involved in some form of theater. Many of my life lessons have taken place in dark windowless rooms with plywood scenery and stage lights.

Side note: the interview was conducted via email.

Watson, Amanda. Personal interview. 12 August 2020.

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