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The actor's problem: performing the plays of Richard Foreman

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journal contribution
posted on 2009-11-13, 10:01 authored by Neal Swettenham
The plays of the American avant-garde writer and director Richard Foreman present actors with a significant problem: their characters exist in a constant state of flux, detached from the usual narrative moorings, with the result that conventional acting methodologies do not apply. Drawing on interviews with Foreman himself, with the actors who worked with him on his New York production of King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe (2004), and on the rehearsal process of a student group preparing for the UK premiere of Pearls for Pigs (1993), Neal Swettenham investigates in this essay the precise challenges posed by these unusual texts. He argues that Foreman wants to provoke in his actors a sense of being permanently ‘off-balance’, requiring each of the performers in King Cowboy Rufus to develop their own way of navigating the play’s contradictory demands. Similarly, the UK actors discovered that the unconventional dialogue, stripped of all contextual clues, must still be delivered with intention and rigour. Certain very specific European films cited by Foreman provide possible pointers to an acting style appropriate to the plays but, in the final analysis, the actor’s problem remains. Neal Swettenham lectures in drama at Loughborough University. His ‘Irish Rioters, Latin American Dictators, and Desperate Optimists’ Play-boy’ appeared in NTQ83 (August 2005).



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


SWETTENHAM, N., 2008. The actor's problem: performing the plays of Richard Foreman. New Theatre Quarterly, 24 (1), pp. 65-74.


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This article was published in the journal, New Theatre Quarterly [© Cambridge University Press] and is also available at: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?aid=1689012




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