"Acting has always been regarded with suspicion," argued theater professor Mahmoud El-Lozy, in his Lecture “Acting: Myths and Misconceptions” that took place at the American University in Cairo (AUC) new campus on Sunday, 28 November. One of the examples he used traces back to the 18thcentury, when the corpse of the French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur was discarded on a pile of garbage, after being refused a burial by the church because of her profession.
“Actors are accused of being professional liars,” said El-Lozy “an accusation that has been passed on in all religions,” adding that the ancient Greek word for actor is hypokrites, literally meaning a pretender.
If the actor is a liar then the audience is participating in this shared lie, since a performance is a pretend circumstance and condition. El-Lozy elaborated that a mature audience should have a dual vision; an audience member could be tearing up watching a scene and at the same moment think how good the actor is.
He used examples from personal experience, where audience members couldn’t differentiate between him and the role he was playing, like the role of the Sufi poet El-Hallaj. After the performance some young students followed him around asking religion-related questions. Upon explaining that he’s not a religious or a Sufi leader, they still insisted on asking him questions arguing that he was reciting Qur’an verses during the performance.
Another misconception regarding acting is the idea that it’s not a serious job. “Acting is a strenuous job, both physically and psychologically,” El-Lozy said “A minute performed on stage could take an hour of rehearsal.”
Acting also feeds on the human instinct of play, which is suppressed by structured education systems. Playing is undermined as an unimportant activity solely for kids, when in fact it broadens ones imagination.
“When children play they take it very seriously,” he said “A kid could be holding a stick and in agreement with his friends that it’s a telescope. He would insist that it’s a telescope even if he’s told otherwise.”
Children also imitate their parents, which is another instinct in people. Quoting the German playwright Bertolt Brecht he said, “First there’s imitation, followed by thought.”
El-Lozy criticized the new phenomenon of showing “the making of” for Egyptian films, as it sets out incorrect ideas about the nature of the happenings on the film set. He described them as music videos, featuring edits of actors joking around with a catchy tune in the background. One of the best “making of” documentaries, in his opinion, is that of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Critics also imprint false ideas in viewers' minds by sometimes describing an actor as being too natural as if it’s an insult, and even often expect actors to overact in order to feel that hard work has been put forth.
In reality, actors put their wounds out in the open and use their memories as a tool and their body as an instrument, which can be draining. “One of the actor’s biggest fears is getting carried away in the moment and forgetting he’s on stage,” El-Lozy said.
During a Q&-A session that followed the lecture, El-Lozy talked about many of the problems that face the current state of the theatre in Egypt. The scarcity of new texts is one dominant issue, as well as the commercial stream of plays that feature one star kicking around other actors with many farcical sketches and gags.
“The national theatre has been burnt down and nobody has done anything about it,” he said “and for thirty years they didn’t have any repertoire.”
Another major issue is the deterioration that the Arabic language has undergone, one of the reasons that makes Syrian TV series much better than Egyptian ones.
“Actors should be lovers of language,” said El-Lozy, “It is what differentiates us from animals.”
Mahmoud El-Lozy is a prominent Egyptian theatre professor, actor, director and playwright. Among his productions at AUC, he has directed plays by Tawfik El Hakeem, Saad El Din Wahaba, as well as Ibsen and Jean Anouilh. He is the author of three plays compiled in the trilogy, We That are Young, and has translated the plays of Tawfik El Hakeem and Numan Ashour. His film credits include roles in Mohamed Khan's Knight of the City, Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria - New York, Philip Haas' The Situation and Ahmed Abdallah’s Heliopolis and Microphone.