Juicing in Shakespeare

I actually spotted that headline over at 365 Days of Shakespeare, where it refers to steroid use.  But when I first saw it, being a life-long pro-wrestling fan, thought of juicing in the context of “deliberately cutting yourself with a razor in order to draw real blood.”

What would you do?  Imagine the stage combat director is an old pro-wrestler, and suggests to you that the scene will look more realistic if you take one for the team and drag a thin bit of razorblade across your forehead in the way that he shows you. Would you go for it? Or tell him he’s nuts and call the union?

It may sound like a stupid question, but there are legions of pro-wrestlers out there who do it regularly, and how different are they really from theatre performers? They’ve got a live audience, they do a show every night, they have to at least attempt to tell a story that was written for them. Imagine a play where it’s all fight scenes and later somebody goes back in and throws in some dialogue to tie it together.

10 thoughts on “Juicing in Shakespeare

  1. David Blixt would have a lot to say about this. He's a student of stage combat, and I think I recall a blog post of his condemning a director who refused to use a fight choreographer and ended up endangering an actor's life with overly sharp prop weapons.

    Pro wrestling may be like acting in that it's showy and staged, but it's unlike (Shakespearean) acting in that it's a blood sport. Even an audience at a production of "Titus" doesn't want to see anyone actually injured. Hence the mantra of one of my stage combat instructor's "It's fake!" He wanted to emphasize to his students that the goal is stage combat isn't realism, per se, but believability. If the audience believes that there is actual danger to themselves or the actors, it takes them out of the story of the play. Only when they are certain the moves of a fight are well choreographed and rehearsed can they follow the plot of the combat. Real blood? It definitely runs counter to this goal.

  2. "…how different are they really from theatre performers? "

    Actually, the difference is quite large.
    I'm an Actor–THEY are not. And cutting oneself to produce blood isn't "Acting" at all.

  3. Convince me, JM – tell me how they're not actors? I'm not calling them good, by any stretch. But they follow a script to tell a story in front of an audience. They also have audience on all four sides, plus cameras. I'm not sure how much difference there is between "Laertes does not really cut Hamlet with an unbated blade" and "The Undertaker didn't really drop the Heartbreak Kid on his head".

    Alexi – The audience knows it's fake. The audience doesn't want to see anybody hurt for real (trust me, I've been watching for a long time and seen people injured, it's not good). Don't confuse something like the WWE (pro wrestling) with the modern gladiatorial "mixed martial arts". The latter is an actual sport with actual beating and injury. The former is a show intended to look like that.

    I agree, though, that in pro-wrestling there is a high risk to the performers, and that's a major difference. But I would say that they are choreographed and rehearsed (keeping in mind that we're talking about professionals here and not backyard idiots), so I think the line where "you're certain there's no risk" is pretty ambiguous.

  4. Alexi fleshes it out well.
    I've been injured on stage more than once because other actors were inept at stage combat or got "carried away" with trying to effect "realism". There's no place for it. The first thing taught–rule #1–is safety for oneself and fellow actors. At least that's how I learned it. If it's "real", whether it be combat or any kind of performing in general, it's not acting anyway…it's real. e.g. If you can't stop crying when you exit, you have a problem–you're not really acting.

    The problem I have with pro wrestling being " like acting" is that they have to use reality show tricks to "make it more real"or more "believable" because they're NOT legitimate actors–no matter how many stupid box office marketing parts Hulk Hogan or Jesse Ventura are given on TV or in film.

  5. Convince me, JM – tell me how they're not actors? I'm not calling them good, by any stretch. But they follow a script to tell a story in front of an audience. They also have audience on all four sides, plus cameras…

    So I guess that makes Vince McMahon a playwright in your eyes?

  6. Didn't really answer my question, J :). But I'll answer yours. A playwright? No, not really. Probably more comparable to the writers (he has a staff of writers, of course, it's not just him) on a soap opera. The script is new every week.

    Who knows, maybe that's the primary difference – between acting the same story repeatedly, perfecting it, instead of being handed a different script every night and if you suck at it, no biggie because the script will be different next week.

  7. In the real world (that would be the professional,legitimate actor's world, not some soap opera circus), if you really suck at it, not always–but as a general rule–you don't get next week's "script".
    If you really prefer to think of pro wrestlers as "actors" akin to the rest of us, well then, I suppose there's nothing that could convince you otherwise anyway.

    I suppose reductionist philosophy might allow anyone to boil anything down to its lowest common denominator when it comes to defining what something or someone is or isn't. The trouble with reductionism is that it eliminates standards. Eliminating standards seriously affects judgment. And when judgment is impaired, all sorts of things begin to happen. None of them good.

  8. It's not reductionism, J, it's the difference between subjective and objective. I feel like I'm taking one of those old english class quizzes where you have to decide whether something is a statement of fact, or opinion.

    Someone graduates medical school, they can call themselves doctor. Or lawyers from law school. After that, of course, there'll be some who are terrible at it. That does not mean that I'm saying my wife is a doctor because she puts a bandaid on a skinned knee.

    So, then, what's the definition that makes someone an actor? You clearly said, "They are not." I appreciate that you don't care for what they do. But which part makes them not actors? What portion of the definition do they not live up to?

  9. I've got nothing against pro wrestlers, until someone blithely equates, in the
    same SENSE, without qualifiers, what it is that I do with what it is that they
    Back to:
    "…how different are they really from theatre performers? "*

    You're not asking a question, really, but making a blanket definitive statement, aren't you?

    It's not strictly subjective or objective. You can rightly claim subjectivity on my part in a certain "sense", but it's only partially accurate to do so. In a way, what you're doing is being highly subjective on an opposite end, by excluding factors that others might consider before defining something as
    accurately as it might be defined. You're speaking in pure quantitative
    technicalities, I'm talking qualitative semantics. Technically, it's about
    qualitative conditional semantics, a branch of applied reasoning (to be as
    stubbornly "technical" in one way as you seem to want to be in another :). So
    let's talk "sense".

    Strictly defined, in the most basic of categorical senses, I suppose that the first guy who smeared himself with dodo bird dung, stuck some feathers up his a**, and danced around the fire, could be categorized an 'actor'. Probably got some laughs too. So he's a comic actor, or 'comedian' as well. Is he a comedian in the EXACT SAME SENSE that Robin Williams is a comedian, given the current conditional and qualitative factors surrounding the state of what it means to be a comedian; those factors which have arisen since whatever B.C.? Your question* would seem to imply that the answer is, simply, yes.

    So, can professional wrestlers be defined viable professional actors, in the common, current, accepted sense, any more than Christine O'Donnell can be
    defined a viable presidential candidate in the common, current, accepted sense
    because she happens to be dabbling in politics and is therefore technically
    categorized a "politician" because she's making the motions politicians make on a political "stage"? I say no.

    Opinion? Technically, in some ways Yes. The latter part of the equation so
    defined and held by many more than myself who are in the know about such things(including the high guru of conservative politics, Karl Rove) and therefore also driven by common sense and practical consensus? Also yes.

    Am I pulling at straws? Yes. But only the ones which happen to be on fire,
    so as to prevent the whole pile from going up in smoke.
    End of "quiz" 🙂

  10. Sorry to jump in like this, but as a director, I do my best everyday to make sure my actors don't get hurt. From an acting standpoint, pain can really take you out of a role. As Lawrence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman, "It's called acting, my dear boy" I wouldn't be willing to do that, and it's horrible practice to ask anyone to do something that you wouldn't be willing to do.

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