Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars: The Outrageous Actor (55+)

Throughout cultural history, the actor, the disturbing individual who stands before us and makes believe, has been a colourful and controversial figure. Sometimes revered as almost priests, sometimes reviled as outcasts and social pariahs, actors and their art have always been a source of fascination.

We will examine the origins of acting in Western theatre and the changes in actors and their craft over the following 2,500 years. During this stimulating theatrical journey through the most intensely human of the performing arts, we will ask, and answer, various questions. Who were these strange people? What were they doing? How were they doing it? What makes a performance “realistic”? Do actors really feel emotions, and do they need to? Are they inspired, or are their performances carefully crafted?

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Recognize different styles of acting
  • Evaluate performances in terms of intention and effect
  • Evaluate the relative contributions to theatrical performances (successful or not!) of the actors, the director, the designer and the playwright
  • Discuss when, why and how performances are moving

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Who are these people, anyway?

What actors do, and why we want to watch and listen as they do it. The unique aspects of theatrical storytelling, and the origins of acting and the actor in Greek religious ritual.

Week 2: The Greeks and the Romans, practice and theory

How acting developed and changed in the Greek and Roman theatre. How theories of performance, inspiration, emotion, decorum, truth and character emerged.

Week 3: The death and rebirth of acting

The end of acting in the Roman period, and its rebirth in the medieval church. Changes and developments in the Renaissance and Elizabethan England when theatre and acting moved outside the church. Professional actors, their craft, and their status. A unique form: Commedia dell’arte and “improvisation.”

Week 4: Baroque, restoration, 18th century; painting the passions

How a formal, stylized “picturesque” form of acting, “painting the passions,” developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, as actors performed in front of elaborate painted scenery. How acting companies were organized and roles were defined. 

Week 5: Romanticism realism

Romantic acting as a reaction against painting the passions: acting in the extreme. Different sources of truth in acting: study and genius. The inevitable changes to acting as actors moved into “realistic” three-dimensional sets. The theory of Naturalism and changes to acting practice.

Week 6: Stanislavsky and his aftermath

Stanislavsky’s method explained. Development of and reactions against the method: Grotowski, Artaud, Brecht. Effects on acting of film and TV: fragmented performances. The actor today. 

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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