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An actor (also known as mime ) is an actor in certain artistic and cultural practices who embodies a role with language , facial expressions and gestures or who interacts with the audience as an (art) figure . Actors are people who work professionally or as a layman in theater ( theater actor , stage actor ), film ( film actor ) or television ( television actor) under instructions ( script , stage direction ) or improvising in their specific form of performing arts .


Playwright and critic Eric Bentley defined acting as: A embodies B while C watches. Bentley's definition makes it clear that the actor's portrayal has a lot to do with the viewer's imagination . Only in the perception of the viewer can an image of the person depicted arise.

At the same time, Bentley's definition abstracts from all historical or cultural peculiarities that characterize specific forms of acting, artistic conventions of theater or film, etc. Accordingly, it is by no means mandatory for an actor to do his job regularly or professionally, to practice acting or to learn how to act systematically in general, that he is guided by predetermined instructions (he can also improvise or extemporize) or act only exercises in specially designed locations (on a stage or in a studio).


The origins of acting activities cannot be set to a specific date, but excavations have uncovered prehistoric masks and images of masked people that indicate processes of dressing, embodying and transforming. The Ethnology has observed acting embody and masks for all indigenous peoples. Early idealistic conceptions generally attributed acting to a “ mimetic urge” and an innate desire to imitate. Today's research assumes that the origin of acting lies in rites with which prehistoric people imitated vital actions (e.g. hunting) and desired social behaviors, or natural forces experienced as uncontrollable through embodiment (demons, gods) tried to conjure up. Finds such as masks and drawings as well as ethnological observations point to connections to animals or essential natural processes (sun course, precipitation, fertility, etc.). On this basis, acting can be understood as a fundamental anthropological constant.

Specialized or (semi) professional actors have existed in Europe since ancient times (see Theater of Ancient Greece , Theater of Ancient Rome ; Mime comes from the ancient Greek μῖμος mīmos "imitator, actor"); The proximity to the pre-Hellenic practice is still evident in early antiquity in the fact that actors usually wear masks. This (pre) professional tradition is not continued in the European Middle Ages and in the early modern period, primarily because the theater - the main place of acting - is strictly prohibited by the Church; Acting activity is at best conceivable as "joking around" and sideline employment of jugglers who travel to the fairs as vagabonds ( traveling people ) and have a correspondingly low social status. At the time of secularization , specialized actors first worked in the aristocratic court theaters and operas as well as in the bourgeois theaters of England ( Elizabethan Theater ) and Italy ( Commedia dell'arte ). The court theater, with its culture aimed primarily at representation, festivity and grandeur, still required a type of actor to present and perform. More modern theater practitioners such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the dramatists of the Weimar Classics created a new understanding of acting and the demand for sensitive naturalness of the characters and for inner motivation of the action.

The ostracism by the church went z. So far, for example, that in Voltaire's time the actress Adrienne Lecouvreur did not renounce her acting profession while she was dying. The pastor forbade their burial in consecrated ground; their remains were buried on the bank of the Seine. Moliere had a similar experience , but received a reasonably honorable burial in a church cemetery.

Thus, the beginnings of professionally practiced acting can be traced back to the double genesis of theater as art in the early modern period. In addition to an academic-amateur art theater, a professional theatrical art developed here, which was practiced by professional actors (ital. Comici ). Her immediate predecessors, traveling medieval actors (commonly referred to as vagabonds and disparagingly counted as part of the so-called “traveling people”), did not yet practice acting as a central activity. As civil servants, the court actors were not professional actors in the modern sense either. For religious and social reasons, women were officially denied access to the acting profession for a long time; Numerous sources, however, also prove professional actresses in the Commedia all'improvviso, such as the famous actress Isabella Andreini, who was a member of the Gelosi troupe. While the tradition of the Commedia all'improvviso was successively displaced in the course of the enlightenment efforts of a reform theater, the 18th century brought about a conception of the actor that has basically endured to this day: that of the actor as a human actor. It was only during this time, more precisely through Goldoni, that the pejorative term Commedia dell'Arte, which is still the most common today, emerged.

Today's notion that an actor should create the overall illusion of another person, "empathize" and "not fall out of character" is further developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the naturalism of acting and the advent of film. The increasing demands on actors lead u. a. on the increased importance of actor training, especially of drama schools . From the middle of the 20th century, the “classic” conception of acting and ability was called into question again, as film, radio and television place new demands on actors (see film actors ). The diversification of the genres (e.g. musicals) and the increasing amalgamation of the various media increased the demands on actors. The notion of complete empathy and perfectly illusionistic play was also questioned programmatically. A number of theater practitioners and theorists, e.g. B. Brecht , demanded that actors should take a visible distance from their role, show a person rather than imitate and clarify their own point of view towards the character. As a means, they suggested using historical drama traditions (e.g. wearing masks), but also practices of non-European (often Far Eastern) theater.


Example of acting work in a radio studio: two sentences in two "appearances"

Actors are usually expected to fit in with their roles as seamlessly as possible. The behavior, motivation and inner constitution of the role figure should be shown credibly, thus creating the illusion that the embodied person is actually present. Acting is therefore often associated with high mental, intellectual and physical demands. It is important to be able to control one's own mental and emotional state in order to express possibly deviating character traits, moods and moods of the role figure. In addition, the actor has to make the linguistic, vocal and physical means of expression of the role his own in such a way that his own "natural" possibilities of expression take a back seat.

Because of this emotional flexibility, some researchers tend to believe that actors are “not fully socialized” individuals who maintain a dynamic personality structure. Others see the actor as more of an "over-socialized" person who has internalized his control of himself and his instincts so much that he can dispose of his emotions and expressions almost at will. From this point of view, some authors see the actor as an exaggerated model of the alienated person .

Acting involves an intensive examination of the character to be portrayed, which requires a sound understanding of the entire context of the plot. This often includes knowledge of historical backgrounds, manners of the time or region, literary conventions as well as language and dialect variants.

Since acting is usually carried out in collaboration with other actors and other staff (directors and producers, stage, set, costume and make-up designers, lighting and sound engineers, cameramen, stage managers , prompts, stage workers), an actor usually has to have social skills. This includes respecting the presence and importance of one's own role and not being inappropriately in the foreground (in theatrical language: becoming a “rampage pig”); or to maintain collegiality and not to endanger the social cohesion of an ensemble, for example if you feel fobbed off with a role that is perceived as too small.

Physical stress exists, for example, when the role calls for acrobatics, fighting, horse riding or dancing, or when the weather conditions are unfavorable when shooting outdoors. The breathing and speaking organs are particularly stressed.

Acting techniques

Konstantin Sergejewitsch Stanislavski

With the acting technique taught nowadays there are basically two different approaches, the naturalistic "identification" position (English representation) and the illusionistic "distance" position (English presentation).

Through “identification” the actor empathizes with the role, merges with the characteristics of the character and temporarily “forgets” his own identity. Using the “distance” position, he proceeds as planned and calculated “with a clear head” in order to deliberately evoke the forms of expression required for the representation.

One of the most influential and widely received drama methodologists, Konstantin Stanislawski , is assigned to the “identification” school, but his method is based on a highly systematic and analytical system. Many more recent influential methods, for example Lee Strasberg'sMethod Acting ” or Sanford Meisner's “Meisner Technique”, are a further development of Stanislawski's approaches.

The English theater education (e.g. Bristol Old Vic , Central School of Speech and Drama , Royal Academy of Dramatic Art ), as well as the techniques of Wsewolod Meyerhold , Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht are considered to be important representatives of the illusionistic acting method .

education and profession

The job title “actor” is not protected, so everyone can call themselves an actor. In fact, many people practice acting temporarily (e.g. as a member of a school theater group) or only on specific occasions (e.g. at a family party), while others work permanently but non-professionally (e.g. as a member an amateur theater ). Others work as amateur actors ( extras ) in theater, opera, film or television productions.

Actor training is not regulated by law. First of all, there is the possibility of an apprenticeship as part of a degree at one of the state universities that offer the drama course and conclude with an academic degree such as diploma actor ( Dipl.-Schau. ) Or Bachelor / Master . In order to be able to work as an actor, it may also be sufficient to train yourself to be self-taught or to take part in courses and workshops. Private acting classes or private acting schools are also possible training courses. A number of private drama schools have state recognition and are thus entitled, like the public drama schools and state universities, to issue official degrees.

Due to this versatility, the content and quality of the training are extremely different. In principle, graduates from state universities have a better chance of gaining a foothold in the market, especially in public theaters. The state universities in German-speaking countries have joined forces in the Standing Conference on Acting Education , which deals with the content standards of acting education. In the area of ​​private schools and individual private tuition, however, there are no binding standards; Here it is up to the schools or teachers what and how they want to teach. The high demand for apprenticeships means that both state universities and private schools filter applicants through demanding entrance exams. Private schools sometimes have lower entry requirements, but expect correspondingly higher financial compensation from the students.

Because access to the profession of “actor” is not uniformly regulated, there is no legal protection and, in addition, many full-time actors only work for a limited period, it is difficult to determine the number of actual professional actors in Germany. Counts and estimates vary depending on whether only full-time or part-time or only dependent or self-employed actors are included. Rough estimates are based on around 25,000 people who earn their living in Germany mainly through acting. However, a distinction is made here between actors permanently employed in theaters and independent actors on the "free market", of whom, according to some sources, only two to five percent can survive financially without having to take on a part-time job.

Labor market and social security

The labor market for actors is comparatively bad. Since the job title “actor” is not protected, people with a wide variety of training paths and professional experience can apply for engagements, which can lead to a large oversupply of applicants. The lack of regulation also means that no reliable information is available about unemployment: The official statistics only refer to employees subject to social insurance contributions (not to the freelancers / self-employed) and only show actors who are registered as unemployed. Nevertheless, an unemployment rate of almost 22% (2006) makes it clear that there is high unemployment among the around 20,000 registered performing artists (this is the category of statistics, which also includes dancers, singers and directors).

Actresses and older actors are particularly affected by unemployment. This has to do with the fact that many traditional plays favor men and younger people and it is easier to make a younger actor “older” than the other way around. In addition, many formats are produced in film and television with almost exclusively young actors. The unemployment statistics are falling again among those over 50, which, however, can also indicate that older unsuccessful actors are turning to other sources of income.

The problem that actors could hardly receive unemployment benefits 1 despite payments to the unemployment insurance fund led to the establishment of the Federal Association of Film and Television Actors (BFFS) in 2006 . a. takes care of actors' social security issues. So was z. In 2008, for example, the key issues paper drawn up by the BFFS and the associated supplementary benefits formula for the day of shooting were agreed with the social insurance institutions. Actors can now also be insured during preparation times, which makes it easier to receive unemployment benefit 1.

Actors apply either directly to theaters and media companies, through the "ZAV Künstlervermittlung" , through private employment agencies or through their specialized actor agency, which represents them in questions of placement, fee negotiation and legal issues as well as career advice and thus takes on the broad spectrum of management . Roles in film and television productions, especially supporting roles, are usually assigned through a selection process known as casting . For applications to theaters this is the audition , for a musical it is the audition .

For actors with a permanent commitment, terms of employment and fees are usually freely negotiated, in some cases collective agreements also apply : The "normal stage contract" (NV Bühne), agreed between the German Stage Association and the Cooperative of German Stage Members , is used at municipal, state and state theaters applied; Private television and film production companies that belong to an employers' association are subject to the “collective agreement for film and television professionals”. According to the “NV Bühne”, a young professional / graduate of a drama school in the first permanent engagement at the theater receives a nationwide tariff of 2,000 euros gross per month.

As with other artist professions, there are also relatively large differences in income among actors. Prominent actors, the " stars ", achieve high to very high incomes; Actors who are regularly engaged in public theaters have a middle income, while a large proportion of the actors often only have below-average and irregular income.

Due to the natural limitations of acting (seasons in the theater, engagement for a single film, duration of a television series), many successful actors also have to continuously seek new engagements, which further complicates the labor market for actors.

In 1983 artists' social insurance was introduced as old-age insurance for actors. It includes pension, health and long-term care insurance. The insured only have to pay the employee's share of the contribution. Since the compulsory insurance does not apply to all actors and contributions are only taken into account for actual periods of employment, the retirement pension is often not sufficient for many actors.

Public and personal perception

Since the abilities and the “added value” of actors can largely only be determined subjectively, a qualitative assessment of actors with analytical methods is difficult. The inconsistent education, the great social differences between actors, the diverse approaches and a high degree of individuality make general statements about actors difficult. The public perception of actors is naturally similarly diverse and individual.

Based on the text, the actor develops the role to be embodied in a compositional process, with the actor's body and voice serving as compositional means. From the point of view of the actor, questions of distance or identity relate less to his relationship to the character or role, but more to his relationship to himself as an interpreter, who is also his own instrument.

See also


  • Gerda Baumbach : actor. Historical anthropology of the actor. Volume 1 acting styles. Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2012, ISBN 978-3-86583-611-3 .
  • Eric Bentley : The Living Drama. An elementary dramaturgy. (The Life of the Drama, 1965). Friedrich-Verlag, Velber 1967 (translated by Walter Hasenclever ).
  • Rainer Bohn: actor and acting. A research report. In: TheaterZeitSchrift. Contributions to theater, media, cultural politics. Vol. 2 (1982), ISSN  0723-1172 , pp. 43-62.
  • Bertolt Brecht : Writings on theater 1–3. (= Collected Works 15–17). Frankfurt / M. 1967.
  1. New Acting Technique, About the Profession of Actor .
  2. Buying brass, small organon for the theater, Stanislavsky studies .
  • Peter Brook : The empty room. (The empty space, 1969). 11th edition. Alexander Verlag, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-923854-90-5 .
  • Denis Diderot : The paradox about the actor. (Paradoxe sur le comédien). Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1984.
  • Gerhard Ebert: The actor. History of an occupation. A demolition. Henschel-Verlag, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-362-00531-4 .
  • Gerhard Ebert, Rudolf Penka: Acting. Actor Training Manual. Henschel-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-89487-294-2 .
  • Gerhard Ebert, improvisation and acting. About the creativity of the actor. Henschel Verlag Berlin 1979, ISBN 3-89487-172-5 .
  • Gerhard Ebert, ABC des Acting, Henschel Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-89487-474-0 .
  • Uta Hagen : Small actor manual. (Respect for acting, 1973). Authors' House, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-86671-021-4 .
  • Fu Li Hofmann: Theater-pedagogical acting training. One try. Transcript, Bielefeld 2014, ISBN 978-3-8376-3009-1 .
  • Jürgen Hofmann: Critical Handbook of West German Theater. Guhl, Berlin 1981, ISBN 3-88220-327-7 .
  • Ulrich Khuon (Ed.): Profession: Actor. About life on and behind the stage. Edition Körber Foundation, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-89684-045-2 .
  • Klaus Lazarowicz, Christopher Balme (Hrsg.): Texts on the theory of the theater. New edition Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-008736-7 .
  • Denis Leifeld: Bringing up performances. For performance analysis of performers in theater and art. transcript, Bielefeld 2015, ISBN 978-3-8376-2805-0 .
  • Bettina Mader: Audition. With modern monologue texts. 2nd Edition. Authors' House, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86671-088-7 .
  • Kira Marrs: Between passion and contract work. A sociological look behind the scenes of film and television. Edition Sigma, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89404-549-4 (also dissertation, University of Darmstadt 2006).
  • Renate Möhrmann (Ed.): The actress. On the cultural history of female stage art. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 2000, ISBN 3-458-34365-2 .
  • Francesco Riccoboni (author), Gerhard Piens (ed.): Die Schauspielkunst (L'Art du theater, 1750). Henschel-Verlag, Berlin 1954 (translated by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing ).
  • Jens Roselt (Ed.): Souls with Method. Acting theories from baroque to post-dramatic theater 2nd edition. Alexander-Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-89581-139-5 .
  • Katy Schlegel: Comica - Donna Attrice - Innamorata. Early professional actresses and their art. Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2011 [= Leipzig contributions to theater history research, vol. 3], ISBN 978-3-86583-430-0 .
  • Ernst Schumacher (Ed.): Acting and performing arts in theater, film, television and radio. Henschel-Verlag, Berlin 1981.
  • Peter Simhandl: Theater history in one volume. 3. Edition. Henschel-Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89487-593-0 .
  • Konstantin S. Stanislawski (author), Dieter Hoffmeier (ed.): Selected writings . The European Book, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-89487-051-6 (2 vols.)
  1. 1885 to 1924 .
  2. 1924 to 1938 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Actors  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Actors  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Actresses  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Actors  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. Martin Klemrath: "Unfortunately no money, but delicious catering". In: August 9, 2012, accessed December 10, 2014 .
  2. Poverty Trap Acting - Welcome to the role lottery. In: Spiegel Online. June 12, 2012, accessed December 10, 2014 .
  4. ^ The artist's social contribution , website of the artist's social fund (KSK)