If there were a two word answer to the question “what do I have to do to be a great classical actor?” My answer would be LOVE LANGUAGE.
Of course there is no magic two word answer that tells you exactly how to be a great actor. Loving Language is a simple concept, but the unleashing the full potential of your words is anything but easy. There’s no way to shortcut doing all your text analysis just because you think you love language. Text work is there to make sure that you use the text well. Having seen plenty of both good and bad productions of Shakespeare with good and bad actors, the good actors who speak well are easy to spot because they love language! It’s not enough just to talk the text. There is so much meaning in this text that you really have to dissect it and make sense of it to the audience.
In our odd American culture, we have been taught to distrust language. Words are misleading. Legal jargon surrounds everything and none of it has meaning. We have forgotten how to express ourselves using words. These days people express themselves through acts of violence after holding expression for too long. But Shakespeare characters are expressive! The words they use are their biggest tool for self-expression. Words live in the body, and come from the heart, the gut, not just the head.
Words, feelings, and thoughts are all one.
This is why there’s no subtext in Shakespeare. What the character thinks, feels, and speaks are all the same. And if they’re lying or being ironic – they’ll probably tell you!
Remember to love language. Use the words when you speak! From Will Shakespeare to Neil Simon, use your words effectively and you’ll be a better actor. An audience doesn’t care if you can make yourself cry if we don’t care what you’re saying. Love language like you would in any serious relationship. You have to love, respect, use, play with, learn about, don’t neglect it, and have fun with it.