| go to publications index page | go to entry page | | go to other departments |


Please visit our sponsors.
Click Here to Visit our Sponsor

by Margaret Croyden

Photo of Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.

with Lorna Marshall (Mentheun)
Foreward by Peter Brook

American theatergoers have seen the exquisite work of the well known international actor Yoshi Oida, most notably in the productions of Peter Brook. Now Oida, who has had a thirty-year career in theater in both the East and West, has opened his artistic thinking and techniques to us in a compelling book, "The Invisible Actor" (Methuen). His deep insights and technical knowledge about acting and his thoughts about life make reading this book a rare experience. Written with clarity and grace (with the help of Lorna Marshall), it is a book for all those actors unafraid to study, to experiment, and the to learn the multiple disciplines that Oida defines. But he is not writing only for actors or theater people. Besides the practical information and useful exercises and artistic advice, the book is full of personal reminiscences and philosophical discussions that will engage the reader interested in the artist's struggle for purity and spiritual transcendence.

Oida is eminently qualified by his background, intelligence and cosmopolitan experience to write on the actor's art and all that it entails. He trained in the Classical Noh theater in his native Japan as well as with a variety of Japanese masters in the arts. For many years he worked with Peter Brook's company in Paris, where he not only acted in its productions but taught, lectured and developed his own techniques. Oida is now a master himself.

The basic idea of "The Invisible Actor" is Oida's claim that on stage an actor should never call attention to oneself, should never acquire theatrical mannerisms, should never allow the audience to become involved with him as performer. An actor's aim should be to exist on stage as in life, without the theatrical accoutrements that attend, and mar, many performances.

"For me, acting is not about showing my presence," Oida writes, "or displaying my technique. Rather it is about revealing, through acting, 'something else,' something that the audience doesn't encounter in daily life. The actor doesn't demonstrate it. It is not physically visible, but through the engagement of the onlooker's imagination, 'something else' will appear in his or her mind. For this to happen, the audience must not have the slightest awareness of what the actor is doing. They must be able to forget the actor. The actor must disappear."

To "disappear," the actor must undergo a rigorous training that Oida describes in minute detail. Actors must be thorough, disciplined, hard working, and self learning. "When I speak about self-learning'" he says, "I am not talking about an intellectual program of training, rather a general openness and willingness to move onwards. It is responsiveness, not rigidity." Openness is the key to understanding one's inner and outer life, one's physical and mental apparatus; openness is committing oneself to learning and struggling with the complicated techniques needed to become "invisible."

To begin the training, Oida begins at the beginning: cleansing the work space. (As Buddhists do in their zendo before a sitting). The actor must be free of any interference, any rubbish, inward and outward. He must follow specific instructions about how to clean, leaving nothing to chance. Cleaning must never be perfunctory. It should be planned and done with certitude and precision. Every action must be carefully and meticulously executed, mindful always of the moment to moment activity, and performed with style and flawless attention, even if the job at hand is banal. Oida's description of cleaning the space is significant; it symbolizes the basic attitude needed for every task that the actor is to undertake for the development of "invisibility."

The book is divided into chapters dealing with the actor as a total organism. In a discussion of the body, Oida emphasizes, the "hara" which lies a few inches below the navel, and is the center of human gravity--the "core of the entire Self." A strong "hara" enhances the health and strength of the individual; it is the pivotal area of a person's energy. Oida suggestions of exercises to fortify the "hara," are powerful instructions not only for the actor but also for the non actor as well. He goes on to discuss every other part of the anatomy because the actor "must learn the geography of the body" and must consciously explore its many aspects. This involves learning precisely how to move, how to stand, how to sit, how to relax, how to walk. And to achieve all this by being fully "present"

The book contains brilliant observations and interesting details about Japanese Noh masters, Zen masters, Kabuki actors, tea ceremonies, and Japanese warriors. There are also witty stories about Buddhism. Fascinating too is a discussion of Oida's work with Peter Brook on the famous epic "The Mahabharata" and the adaptation of Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who" and of the difficulties and challenges in speaking in both the French and English necessary for the Brook productions.

A most useful and interesting aspect of the book is the special contribution of Lorna Marshall, Oida's collaborator. After many of Oida's remarks, her comments in printed italics amplify and clarify his thoughts and her information about Japanese theatrical history and background is enlightening.

"The Invisible Actor" is an extraordinary study--almost a scientific document, carefully written, with original insights as well as practical information about the art of acting. It is also a tribute to an unique artist. Yoshi Oida, by virtue of his superb performances, has attained what he aimed for as an actor. He has achieved purity; he has become "invisible." And to his credit and our benefit, he has now been able to tell others how it can be done. [Croyden]

| home | listings | columnists | reviews | what's new? | people page | cue-to-cue | discounts | welcome |
| museums | NYTW mail | recordings | what's cool? | who's hot? | coupons | publications | classified |