The Last Vaudevillians

Last month I went to a seminar on animation acting, where it hit me that in the peculiar fraternity I belong to (which includes women–pardon the language), we’re the last inheritors of an aesthetic that has long vanished everywhere else.

This seminar proposed that John Barrymore–along with Charlie Chaplin–was something of an acting standard to strive for.  I’d never really thought about animation acting in that way before, that it’s an artform that relies on techniques established in the first third of the twentieth century.  Techniques that, if a live-action actor were to use them, would seem extremely stylized and somewhat hammy by audiences today (even in comedy).  It’s as if method acting never existed!

(This is not a knock on my industry, or of anybody in it, just my take on things.  After all, when the early animators were developing the art, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore were contemporaries.)

I mean, I get why animation acting is rooted–you could even say stuck–in the past.  On the surface, it’s kind of silly to think of a cartoon character using the Stanislavsky method.  Cartoons are exaggerations, simplifications of the “real”.  To do “realistic” cartoons fails to utilize the full potential of the medium.  But, regardless of the facts, do I feel like a walking anachronism now?  You betcha.