Action with Camera: Making the Future Audience Present



This paper—a conversation between scholar/practitioners working separately on the mediation of bodies—is an interrogation into practices of acting for stage and for camera, and the ways that practices for the theatre can be used in training actors for film. Challenging the essentializing metaphor, “acting for camera,” we engage strategies for dislocation of the sovereign seat of the director—a point of focus toward which bodies are trained and become entrained. Rather than accept habitually repeated logics of representation and the subjectivities they tend to produce, we develop practices that replace actor with player. Drawing on various inflections of the physical action from divergent Western theatrical training traditions (Stanislavski, Grotowski, and Brecht), we have developed strategies for actors and a framework for thinking about what “works” for the camera and what doesn’t. These strategies pull the camera into practice and process as an active player rather than seating it as an apparatus of capture to be coped with by a performer on one side and a director/crew on the other. The player plays with the camera rather than for a future audience it represents. Much of the paper draws from workshops where we used theatrical devising techniques and games with filmmakers and actors. We take as a given that most actors-in-training in the West already have a relationship to camera that brings along habits, ways of seeing, and entanglements that require examination as part of rehearsal and performance processes. We pull the camera into the making process, not as a capture device or a stand-in for a future audience, nor as “content,” but as one of the elements of mise-en-scène and the games that players use to produce it. Actors become filmmakers and vice versa. The processes we found emerging unsettled the habitual narrativizations arising from the actor-filmmaker-editor continuum.

Author Biographies

Heather Nolan, Performance Studies, UC Davis

Heather Nolan is a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies at UC Davis. She holds a master’s degree in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA. Her current research is on the involvement of personal monitoring devices in the production of knowledge about the self. She has previously developed theater games workshops for foster youth around identity development and performance related to the internet and social media. Heather received a BA in Drama from Dartmouth College and attended acting conservatory at the New Actors’ Workshop in New York, founded by George Morrison, Mike Nichols, and Paul Sills. She as acted on stage and in independent films and has appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Heather has been a producer in theater, television, and independent film and has taught film studies at UC Davis and Woodland Community College.

John Zibell, University of Salford

John Zibell is a lecturer in Film Production at the University of Salford. He earned his PhD in Performance Studies from UC Davis. He is a performance scholar / practitioner working on critical training and radical politics. His material practices happen in the theatre, cinema, gallery, and the street and focus on exhaustion, imaging, and presencing. Zibell earned the Provost’s Dissertation Year Fellowship at UC Davis, during which time he developed a major Practice as Research work in the immersive virtual reality environment of the UC Davis KeckCAVES. The piece was suggested by the film/TV works of Samuel Beckett and the outcome was a dissertation chapter on the systematizing of actor training practices involving embodied engagement with new media. He is a conservatory-trained actor currently working with a company of actors/filmmakers using the methodologies from that work in the CAVES to produce workshops (currently in process) directed at cinematic devising strategies around de-unifying the camera’s “gaze.” Zibell’s key research focus is constellated around strategies (largely taken from theatrical knowledge systems) that can be used to pull the camera into practice and process as an active player.






Devised Filmmaking Practices