Monday, February 1, 2010
An actor or actress is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television theatre, or radio in that capacity. The ancient Greek word for an "actor," (hypokrites), means literally "one who interprets"; in this sense, an actor is one who interprets a
The word actor refers to a person who acts regardless of sex, while actress refers specifically to a female person who acts; therefore a female can be referred to by either term. The Oxford English Dictionary states that originally "actor" was used for both sexes. The English word actress does not derive from the Latin actrix, probably not even by way of French actrice; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, actress was "probably formed independently" in English. As actress is a specifically feminine word, some feminists assert that the word is sex. Gender-neutral usage of actor has re-emerged in modern English, especially when referring to male and female performers collectively, but actress remains the common term used in major acting awards given to female recipients and is common in general usage.
The gender-neutral term player was common in film in the early days of the Production Code but is now generally deemed archaic. However, it remains in use in the theatre, often incorporated into the name of a theatre group or company (such as the East West Players).
As opposite sex
In the past, only men could become actors in some societies. In the ancient Greece and Romeand the medieval world, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to go on the stage, and this belief continued right up until the 17th century, when in Venice it was broken. In the time of William Shakespeare, women's roles were generally played by men or boys. The British prohibition was ended in the reign of Charles II who enjoyed watching actresses on stage. When an eighteen year Puritan prohibition of drama was lifted after the English Restoration of 1660, women began to appear on stage in England. Margaret Hughes is credited by some as the first professional actress on the English stage. The first occurrence of the term actress was in 1700 according to the OED and is ascribed to Dryden
In Japan, men (onnagata) took over the female roles in kabuki theatre when women were banned from performing on stage during the Edo period. This convention has continued to the present. However, some forms of Chinese drama have women playing all the roles.
In modern times, women sometimes play the roles of prepubescent boys. The stage role of Pete Pan, for example, is traditionally played by a woman, as are most principal boys in British pantomime. Opera has several "breeches roles" traditionally sung by women, usually mezzo-sopranos. Examples are Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel, and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. This is uncommon in film, however, except in animated films and television programmes, where boys are sometimes voiced by women. For example, in The Simpsons the voice of Bart Simpson is provided by Nancy Cartwright.
Having an actor dress as the opposite sex for comic effect is also a long standing tradition in comic theatre and film. Most of Shakespeare's comedies include instances of overt cross-dressing, such as Francis Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum stars Jack Gilford dressing as a young bride. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon famously posed as women to escape gangsters in the Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot. Cross-dressing for comic effect was a frequently used device in most of the thirty Carry On films. Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams have each appeared in a hit comedy film (Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire, respectively) in which they played most scenes dressed as a woman.
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