Muhsin Ibrahim

The art of acting is the heart of theatre; direction breathes life into the heart, and other crews, alongside the audience, put flesh and blood onto the skeleton carrying the heart to make it fully functional. Everything—the story, stage, costume, the audience, etc—revolves around the actor. This undoubtedly makes acting a very gigantic task, challenging and it easily becomes problematic if not well handled. This, therefore, calls for the use of many and different objects to facilitate and further the action onstage, to make it more realizable, attention-grabbing and entertaining. There is no boundary to this.

However, the success of an actor calls for a collective works of many professionals in harness with the director such as set designer, and costume coordinator, props coordinator, make-up coordinator, etc who are in charge of selecting any object seen befitting for a certain role, performance, and broadly, the setting of a play. Actor could be asked to use anything as theatrical properties (appurtenances of the stage ) to enhance his presentation which is to communicate images, and the images have to be seen, felt, experienced, etc by the audience. In a broader term, this is achieved through the use of internal (i.e. mind, body and voice) and external (props and costumes) aids.


The actor uses gesture, movement, facial expression and posture in a superior manner to create physical nuances of the characters. The characters should be controlled, precise and believable. All characters are sustained throughout performance. These three (3) basic ways of acting (internal aids) offer a priceless means to achieve the said depiction:

  1. Mind
  2. Body
  3. Voice

  • The Mind
This calls for the application of mind to understand and to analyze other characters as well as the personality, psychology and objectives of the role the actor is to play. He is also expected to put the expected response, action and reaction of his audience into cognizance, therefore if need be, he adjust. Moreover, the actor, according to the famous Russian playwright and actor, Constantine Stanislavsky, has to imagine as “if” it were in real life. For instance, at the death of his mother in the play, the actor is expected to behave as if it were his maternal mother that died. In short, this aid is more internal than all others, for what is there to apply is even “abstract” as it exclusively deals with mentality and psyche alone.
·         The Body
One may be allowed to call this the invaluable aid an actor could ever get. It refers to the application of hands, legs, head and all parts of the body to enhance communication with an audience. Every actor uses three distinct elements when he uses his body:
*      Stance: this refers to posture and gait of the actor. For instance, bending back to impersonate an old man, etc.
*      Gesture: the way the actor uses his hands, legs, head and other parts of the body to facilitate his communication with the audience.
*      Facial Gesture: or facial expression. It means how the actor uses his feeling and mood—sadness, happiness, excitement, shock, etc—to communicate.
Indian theatre, particularly, developed a complex language of symbolic gestures, using prescribed movements of the lead, cheek, nose, eyebrows, neck, chin, chest, eyes, feet and hands (Devlin, 1989). Relatively speaking, there is what is called mime, where the performer does everything with his body, without voicing a word, and, sometimes, again, without using anything extra. This was more popular in the early 20th century up to the end. The exponent figure of this practice was the acclaimed French actor and mime, Marcel Marceau.
  • The Voice
According to Sidwel (2008), “Voice is the most specialized and most difficult of the elements of acting to master”. Hence many ‘professional’ actors spend much time trying to control their voice to the tune of their role. For instance, Stanislavsky (1950:06) recalls that: “In order to disguise his bass voice my friend [Tortsov] uses only high tones in speaking”. The point of that decisive, steady and often repeated effort is that the spoken dialogue—the rhythm, accent, pitch, pace, etc. would lead the actor to find the emotional essence of the character he is portraying.

“Unique among all the arts”, Devlin (1989:53) asserts, “Theatre consists in presenting human behaviour directly”. The aids are (or should be) very carefully selected, for they are expected to look “real” if not “too real”. Real objects are not usually adapted because of their size or nature or some other reasons. The external aids consist everything an actor uses such as make-ups, clothes, artificial beards, masks, stick and any other things that is not part or from his body. These are broadly categorized into two, namely: Props and Costumes.
  • Props
“Props” is the short form of properties use by actors; for example, a crown for a king, a gun for a soldier, or a wand for a magician. Mask is another old way of distinguishing different characters on stage. Its use dates back to centuries in ancient Greek. Thespis of ancient Greek is believed to be the first actor who introduced the use of mask, where he used different masks to indicate different roles he solely played in agora (marketplace).
  • Costumes
Costumes refer to the clothing worn by the actor that helps to determine character, time, theme and mood. Actors often put on a disguise, changing their appearance from their normal selves. This practice is more done in Africa and in many parts of Asia—India, for instance—decorative masks are a striking feature of the performing arts. For instance, the ancient Indian Sage Bharata’s Natya Shashtra, which is a detailed treatise on dramaturgy, actors are encouraged to use different kinds of the mask, for different performance. Worthy of note is: a skilled actor can show character through his speech, movement and gesture not necessarily by wearing a mask, or anything else, as the case maybe.

It suffices to say that there is no actor without aids, both internal and external. However, the uses of such aids differ from place to place (for example: context), time to time, culture to culture and so on. The world, too, is in a constant state of flux, and it is a place for people of different races, religions, norms and cultures, and host of other differences; hence, the dynamism of the aids. Nonetheless, very keen, committed and experienced coordinators and designers are aware of this. Thus, the director, as the backbone of any play, with their (the coordinators and designers) assistance, selects appropriate aid for a fitting role.


Devlin, Diana (1989). Mask & Scene: An Introduction to a World View of Theatre. London: Macmillan.

Sidwell, D. (2008).  “The Performing Arts of Theatre”. http://ocw.usu.edu/Theatre_Arts/Understanding_Theatre/The_Performing_Arts_of_Theatre_1.html. (Accessed on 10.09.2013)

Stanislavski, C. (1950) Building a Character. New Delhi: Research Press.


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