Style is very much the Holy Grail. I remember Lecoq's final challenge to us as being "Go forth into the world and discover the source of Style!"

Style has nothing to do with "good taste." In fact there is nothing more destructive to the arts than to portray them as exercises in good taste. Better to have good reflexes.

The term "genre" is also misleading, along with its close relative "period style." They suggest that there are narrow formulas to follow; that there is right and wrong.

Whereas "genre" describes a product and is a literary concept that is a tool of the dramaturg, Style derives from the processes of expressive performance and is a tool of the actor. Style is not about the application of a set of limitations. It is about expansion.

Every production presents the audience with its own unique set of conventions. These conventions - some implicit, some explicit, some evolved, some invented, some exploiting the contact with the audience, others closing the fourth wall - all these possibilities, are manifested in the "style" of a production.

In the very first minutes after the curtain is raised a contract is being made between performer and public about these "rules of the game," about entering into an imagined reality. It is the stage actor's job to embody that stylistic transformation in a way that is both courageous and consistent.

Style implies a distancing of an action from the quotidian. This distancing, which relies on a transformation of naturalistic reality, places the action on one of an infinite number of planes, what Lecoq referred to as "niveaux de jeu." Lecoq would refer to naturalistic acting as "le niveau psychologique."

An absence of style might be the aim of the naturalistic actor, but more fool the naturalistic actor, because it is never achievable on the stage; you always see the wheels turning; there is always a supertext. (One should stop treating the audience as if they were idiots, and let them know that we know that they can perfectly well see this acting up here on stage is all make-belief, and really, its quite all right that they can see right through it! Give the audience some credit. Acknowledge that they are participants in creating the illusion.)

Style is implicit in the use of mask. To the degree that the mask-maker has transformed the human face, so should the actor transform his or her movements, voice and play.

Style is likewise implicit in the use of heightened language. Verse is words wearing a mask. To the degree that the language departs from everyday conversation, so should the actor's physical presence and characterization.

Discounting the occasional rapper, I have not seen too many people wandering about town, full of passion, and constantly speaking in verse. I have heard though, that such people do exist inside the walls of mental hospitals. Which raises an interesting question: Are Shakespeare's characters all a bunch of craze-o lunatics? And should actors play them that way?

Style requires passion, but needs to be moderated by sincerity and economy. Both amplification and simplicity are essential.

As for Lecoq's challenge? I believe I have found, at least to my own satisfaction, some kind of serviceable answer. Those naïve, evolved styles such as commedia dell' arte and melodrama, all seem to have their source in prototypical performer/audience relationships found in everyday life. I explain this in some detail in my article on "Stonewashed Theatre," and in the entry on "Supertext."

In their famous little book on writing, "The Elements of Style," Strunk and White make a comment that could just as well refer to theatre:

"Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition..."

Similarly in the theatre, authentic style derives from the actor's supertext, not from an imposed directorial composition.

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Jonathan Paul Cook © 2010