If there is one thing that really pushes human creativity and imagination to their potential limits, it is acting. It is not surprising, indeed, that the ancient Greeks, the originators of the theater, were the most prolific minds in subjects that required intense critical thinking, imagination, and creativity. They led the human race in philosophy, literature, astronomy, and mathematics. As an art, acting tends to bring out qualities of finesse, imagination, creativity, the ability to imitate convincingly and create an alternative reality. Accordingly, the understanding of acting as “the art of being human” reflects the necessity of variety human skills such as the ability to imagine, create alternate realities, and dramatize ideas that make acting possible. Acting involves creating different characters and personalities through speech and actions. It entails giving life to ideas and turning fantasies into practical realities on stage. The ability to temporarily “forget” one’s self and replace it with a different character underscores the essence of being human.
Being human is to have the capacity to think at different levels, to imagine beyond what is real, to create alternative worlds, imitate, and adapt to different social situations. It is this ability to assume multiple roles and adapt to different situations that distinguish human beings from animal and other forms of life. Acting brings out all forms of the potential and possible human. It allows the individual to display multiple intelligences. As science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once observed,
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects (qtd in Albrecht, 2007, p. 25).
This statement suggests the different roles that an all-round human being must be able to play. Therefore, acting cultivates the human abilities in individuals by allowing them to play out different human roles. It creates a soldier, a king, a cook, a peasant and so forth in the same person.
My support of this statement stems from the conviction that to be unable to be anything else other than the real you is to be robotic. In the words of Heinlein, being you and always you without the slightest imaginative attempt to be something else is like being an insect, which can do only the things that an insect does. Human beings are not, and ought not to be inhibited by their nature and be monotonous in their roles like programmed robot or machines; they should be able to assume roles different from their natural ones. My experience in acting has exposed me to opportunities to cast aside my natural personage and project different personalities. I can be a doctor, a spoiled kid, or a rejected, heartbroken lover. The ability to convincingly bring out these personalities enhances my creativity and imagination, qualities that are inherent in human beings.
Another way of understanding acting as the art of being human is by considering its practical imitation of everyday human activities and the social contexts in which they operate. Thus, acting is doing only what is physically possible for a human being to do (Bruder, et al., 1986, p. 14). For instance, playing the role of a hooker in a bar recreates social contexts in which human beings engage in real life situations. The only difference is that the actor “becomes human on stage” through imitation as opposed to a real hooker in a real bar. Regardless, both contexts reflect the reality and practicality of people’s social life. In addition, the act of imitating social conversations on stage reflects real situations that human beings engage in. Thus, acting qualifies as an art of being human in that it involves creating real life scenes through creative imagination. Moreover, the conception of drama (acting) as an art rather than a science suggests the notion of creating something new out of available raw material. In this case, words, gestures, body language, and other forms of nonverbal cues serve as the raw material that the actor utilizes on the stage to create scenes, new characters, and alternative realities. In this light, acting involves using resources that are accessible to human beings like language and body movements to create different worlds.
Finally, acting involves bringing out human emotions and feelings as well as portraying different conditions and circumstances that affect human beings. For instances, actors feign anger, compassion, love, sadness, and hatred through words and actions. Achieving this effect requires the actor to “free the natural voice” in a manner that is “in direct contact with emotional impulses” (Linklater, 2006, p. 319). These are emotions that human beings experience in real life situations. Therefore, acting exposes individuals to situations that they experience in reality, thereby arousing their human sensitivities. It cultivates individuals’ resourcefulness in dealing with different psychological states by allowing them to confront their fears, anxieties and feelings through rehearsing and imitation.
In conclusion, acting makes people human by allowing them to relive real life situations through creative imagination. It enhances the human capacity to display multiple intelligences, and in so doing enable individuals to explore the different possibilities in which man can function as a human being. It is through such imitations of possible real life situations that acting qualifies as the art of being human.