Blesok no. 21, June-July, 2001
Theatre Theory


The Specific Actor’s Code of Petre Prličko in the Context of Theater Semiotics

Biljana Crvenkovska


    At the beginning, we may say that the basic Prličko’s characteristic as an actor, is that he replaces a lot of his speech with gestures or mimics, or more specific – he replaces the linguistic code with the gestual and mimic code. In other words, he’s transcoding the speech into a gesture.
    The German semioticist Erica Fiescher-Lichte, in her work The Semiotics of Theater divides gestual signs in two kinds: those that support the language and those that replace the language. Gestual signs with function of replacing the language have purpose to express/produce meanings that couldn’t be given by linguistic signs (or couldn’t be expressed in full by them). It’s well known how the gesture and the mimics, namely the “body speech” – can say more than words, sometimes.
    According to Erica Fiescher-Lichte, gestual signs that support the language – mainly have two functions: 1) punctuation and 2) illustration of certain point. “The punctuation of the speech includes, in most of cases, accenting or structuring of gestures that emphasize, confirm or interpret further what’s important on the level of linguistic signs. It also includes the gestual signs that have syntactic functions. That occurs when they constantly appear in link with certain syntactic combinations or as their full substitute, or when they appear as locators in certain combinations of noun or pronoun constructions. As for instance, the importance of the intonation in a certain question can be supported by lifting the eyebrows, hands or shoulders; or, in other hand, with emphasizing the progressive intonation in pronouncing of the sentence – or, for instance, in cases when the sentence is grammatically over/finished, but with sustaining the look onto acting partner’s eyes or with the head position that shows it isn’t over yet, etc.”
    So, what’s characteristic for Prličko, is the use of – not only the gestual and mimic signs, but also of the kinesic signs in general. These signs are often supported by paralinguistic signs, and it can be said that that’s typical for Prličko’s acting performance in whole. He implements the gestual and mimic code in numerous ways:
1. Very often mimics and gestures in those moments of the play when there is no speech involved by play’s default. In those moments the gestures or mimics are used to emphasize or show something that could be whether some internal attribute of the character, or something important for the scene action at the moment. The use of the gesture and mimics can be in purpose of showing somebody’s reaction on certain replica or action, etc.
2. The other use of gestual and mimic signs is when Prličko tries to interpret and emphasize something he does or says in a play, or make it more impressionable, more comic, etc. So, in this case, it is a matter of supporting the linguistic signs with gestual and mimic signs.
3. Another characteristic of Prličko’s code is the partial substitution of linguistic signs with gestual and mimic ones. This is a frequent moment in Prličko’s acting performance… Actually, he does this: he says the half of the replica, and then he “shows” the rest instead of saying it. Or, he may use some sound or voice. That is the case of partial substitution of linguistic signs with gestual and mimic and paralinguistic signs.
4. The last case is the extreme of it, when Prličko, instead of speech, uses only gestual and mimic signs. He actually doesn’t pronounce the replica at all – he completely transforms it into gestures and mimics. This is a case of full substitution of the linguistic signs with gestual and mimic signs.

    In the most performed play of Prličko – Dubious Person he builds the character of Jerotie Pantic exactly through the gestures and mimics, reflecting in that way the character’s individuality. It’s most often reflected through the reactions of the character (Jerotie Pantic) on certain features: fear, distrust, greed, etc. – the things that Prličko interprets exclusively using the gesture and mimics. This can be noticed in character’s attitudes and relations with his employees, or with his wife – moments that supplement new meanings to the text. In other words, the Prličko’s true speech is the gestual speech, the speech with which he creates the context and even the meaning of what’s he talking about.
    In the play A Million Martyrs, Prličko, playing the role of master Petre, uses the mimic speech to order his apprentice something, with winking, or waving his head, etc. In that way, Prličko manages to emphasize the comic moments of the text and what’s most important – to maintain the attention of the audience.
    Prličko frequently doesn’t finish the replica, but by cutting it at some point, transforms it into a murmuring or even silence – and replaces it with the “speech” of gestures and mimics. The way he performs that, not only fulfills the purpose and gives the full meaning to the replica, but also adds certain new meaning, and gives to it the wanted/needed context.
    So, every mimic, every gesture, movement of his body and sound in Prličko’s performance – are carriers of meaning. They are semantic units that, in a certain context, gain their meaning. Prličko, through his acting performance (using his actor’s code) – manages to produce meanings and distributes them to the audience by gestual and mimic signs. Through that, he founds the context of the message that ought to be transferred out. So, the art of Prličko’s performance is art of meaning producing. He manages to transmit to the public exactly what he wants and to provoke the wanted/needed effect to the audience. A great role in this ability plays his personal actor’s code.

The Personal Code of Petre Prličko

    We already mentioned that Prličko, in his acting performance, always “conveys” his personal code, that is, he supplements to the character in the play some of his own individuality – namely, he supplements his personal code to the character’s code. With the scheme showed above we saw how the compilation of one’s personal code with the character’s code works, and how, the so-called actor’s code, is emerging that way. What we are going to look up into now, is how the personal code of the actor (here: the personal code of Prličko) functions, in what level and intensity, and finally, what are its limits.
    In his text The Prague Structuralism and the Theater Sign, Kair Elam wrote: “In the traditional theater’s way of performing, the actor’s body gains its mimetic and presenting ability with the fact that the body becomes something else than it – in fact – is, abandoning (more or less) its own individuality. This applies equally on the actor’s speech (what understands some generally marked “speech”) and on every aspect of his performance, even on some completely random factors – like on the physiologically conditioned reflexes, which are understood as signification units.”
    Exactly that – “abandoning (more or less) its own individuality” – is the issue that will be the basic objective of our research on the personal code of the actor.
    Every actor, in building of his character in certain play, more or less – uses his personal code. Someone can say that the actor would be better if he uses more of his personal code, so he can emphasize his own individuality and his “unique” approach to the character; but, in the other hand, if the actor uses too much of his personal code, he can easily become “easy recognizable” and even “stereotypic”. The third solution (may be the best one) is the one when actor will moderate and reach balance between the personal code and the character’s code, as the way for reaching the perfection.
    If we present, in graphic mode, the relations between the “personal” and the “character’s” code at one actor’s performance, we can get a numerous variants, but here we’ll present the main three variants:

    At the scheme 1, the actor uses his personal code much more than the character’s code, taking from the character’s code only what’s necessary. At the scheme 2, the things are reversed: the actor uses his personal code at the minimum, and much more of the character’s code. At the scheme 3, we have some ideal/optimal situation, or more accurate – the gaining the ideal/optimal balance between the two codes. The red point marked on the scheme presents the actor’s code as a result of the “compilation/junction” of the two codes – personal actor’s code and character’s code.
    Prličko, in his acting performance, always and quite much did use his personal code, giving to every of his performances his “own personal stamp”. Through all of his acting performances he constantly conveyed his personal acting “thread” – made of his personal habits, mimics, gestures… But, besides that enhanced use of his personal code, he always did a good balance with the code of the character in every play, always succeeding to achieve harmony. In that way he was always achieving the effect needed for a comic role, and although specific – that way of his acting always did conquer the audience. At the following scheme the actor’s code of Petre Prličko is shown, that is, the relation between his personal code and the character’s code:

    Venko Andonovski, in his text Impersonation, Magic, Schizophrenia, changes the traditional understanding of the term impersonation – as a task/goal of the actor to act/present something that is something different/opposite of what the actor really is, as well of the capabilities/conditions of his body. Andonovski understands the impersonation as any actor’s performance, that is, any transformation of the actor in something he, actually, isn’t (namely, the character he should perform in a play). Namely: “I understand the impersonation as any acting performance situation; the impersonation is every actor’s creation – because every creation, in its essence, is impersonation and also an attempt to overcome the gap and the difference between the actor and the one he should become into.”
    Then, according to Andonovski, the actor’s body becomes a sign, and the produced character is what’s signed. With that, the impersonation is purely semiotic act, that is – a process of semiosis. Andonovski claims that “impersonation is, above all, a semiotic theater law, because with the impersonation, the most miraculous situation happens: the body/sign is motivated totally and 100%, so it is not possible to make the difference between the sign and the signed, or what is referential in the theater’s sign any more – in that body/sign we spoke of.”
    With this, Andonovski suggests that the actor, transforming himself into the character – takes its characteristics. But in the same time, he supplements his own mark to them, or he adds them to his own personal ones – and so he makes one whole of both. In that way, the impersonation would be not only putting the actor in role of being something else, but also the inclusion of personal actor’s elements in that process (which is more than logical). And that’s exactly the goal that every actor should accomplish: performing the character in a play – to perform himself, too. So Prličko did. Above all, he played himself. He was a comedian, grown up in the travelling theaters, living the bohemian life and striving to capture and enchant the audience. On the stage he again would be a comedian (because that was the way he was accepting himself, too), and he always was adapting the character to himself.
    This text was an attempt to present the specific way of the acting performance used by Petre Prličko and the specific way of his communication with the audience. In that context, giving any judgment of the values and quality of his acting performance is completely irrelevant for this research. What’s important, is to emphasize what identifies and distinguishes him from the others and what makes him – what he is. That’s why this text is dedicated to Prličko’s speech without speaking, to his speech with gestures, mimics and movements, as a specific way for him to express himself.


Translated by: Petar Volnarovski



    Communication is the basis of the theater as a phenomenon. The basic communication occurs between the actor (as sender) and the audience (as receiver). That is why the theater is understood, above all, as a semiotic phenomenon. This communication is conducted through signs: the signs sent to the public by the actors, signs sent by the director, by the author of the play, by the scenery artist, and so on. An infinite production of meanings. Anyhow, a general and most significant role in this process is assigned to the actor, to his body, to his movements and his speech. Those movements and words are signs, and the actor himself is a sign. All these things are research subjects of the semiotics of theater, as a sub-discipline of the semiotics as a general science of signs.
    The actor’s body is a sign – with this expression, as a maxim, operates the semiotics of theater. The body is a sign (or a macro-sign), but it is also a “bundle” of signs, or – syntagma. Above all – a kinesic syntagma.
    All the movements of the actor (the movements of the body and face) are signs, namely – kinesic signs. The movements of the face (mimics) are mimic signs; the movements of the body without a change in location are gestual signs, while the movements through space are proxemic signs.
    If we reinterpret Tadeush Kowzan, we could say that the signs assigned to the actor (whish are a part of the actor as a theater’s macro-sign) are the following: movement, gesture, mimics, words, sounds and (if we add a new category) posture or appearance, as one unavoidable actor’s sign. All these signs (which can be supplemented with new categories and subcategories, as Patrice Pavis also points) are given here only hypothetically, as an example for the structure of the macro-sign called as the actor.
    What concerns the signs related to the speech, they are divided as linguistic and paralinguistic. The linguistic signs are related with the letter (with the words), or more accurate – to the meaning of the word, and the paralinguistic signs are related to the sounds and intonation, tonality of those, namely with the connotation that certain sounds and voices carry within the actors act. Pointing at these divisions is important and necessary within our research here, because in our case of Prličko’s act the mimic and gestual signs, and their combinations with the paralinguistic signs.
    It’s interesting that all of those types of signs (gestual, mimic, proxemic and paralinguistic), in opposite of the linguistic ones don’t have strictly determined meaning. The mimic signs have a meaning if they fit to the schemes of the “recognizable” or “known” face expressions that show/represent certain conditions: joy, grieve, anger, astonishment, wondering, etc. The paralinguistic signs fit into a similar scheme, but on the sound and tonality level; but yet, about them also can not be said that they have strictly determined meaning. What concerns the gestual signs, we can say that they practically have no meaning outside the context they are used in. In general, all those signs (the linguistic ones excluded) above all depend on the context they are used in. We are going to research the Prličko’s manner of sign use, the signs that are of his own “personal code”, or more specific, how he manages to draw the similar line in all of his acting performances and to thread it with the other signs in a certain given context.
    We could say that theater semiotics concentrates its interests at two things: on the actor phenomenon and on the theatrical code phenomenon (although they are connected indissoluble and can’t be anticipated apart from each other). In this essay, our primary goal is to implement the methods of semiotics on theater, i.e. starting from the semiotics methods and claims, to determine two things: the phenomenon of the actor (in this case Petre Prličko) and the code that is specific for Prličko as actor (that is, his actor’s code).
    When we look back at the roles of Petre Prličko, we can notice a specific way of interpreting those roles. This specific approach isn’t a result only of one specific “actors school” of the traveling actor’s troops, but it is also a result of particular individual characteristics of Petre Prličko – his way of interpreting roles above all set on gestures and mimics. In all of his roles (in theater, film and television), Prličko gives a special accent to the gesture in his acting – above the speech. His ability of pushing aside the speech and accenting the expression of the gesture – is even something more: it is a transformation of speech into gesture.
    In a specific way, Prličko is transforming replicas in movements, gestures and mimics. Never telling his whole replica, or just murmuring it, with his mimics and movements he gives to it much greater strength and a fullness to the meaning, than that she would have had if he’d just say it. Sometimes is enough just to wink, or to wave with his hand, and the speech happened. And he didn’t have to say a word.
    The most important thing in our analysis of Petre Prličko’s acting performance is to illuminate and deeply analyze that particular kind of “speech”: a speech of movements and gestures, i.e., to set the foundations of the “speech without speaking”, or the gestual and mimic speech. This “speech” isn’t accidental and uncontrolled phenomenon in Prličko’s acting performance. In contrary: it is a certain and determined system as a base of his whole act as an actor, system that formed himself on stage, and in the eyes of the audience. That is, in fact, the main reason why this essay is concentrated on the gestual and mimic code of Prličko’s acting performance: because that’s the system based on the “speech” evolved into a code, into a rule that bears a whole system. That code is Prličko’s personal stamp. He is known by that, and that is his distinctiveness. Most probably that is what he’ll be remembered by.
    In our research we are going to pay attention primarily to Prličko’s comic roles (for instance: Jerotie Pantic in Dubious Person, Miloe in Authority, Agaton in Mourning Family, Zhivota in D-r, all by Branislav Nushic, and Argan inConceitedly Ill, and Orgon in Tartuffe, both by Molliere). Having in mind the fact that the gesture and the mimics are fully coming true in comedy, and namely, they represent the essence of the comedy as a genre. We could mention here the examples of Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceaux and the importance of the gesture and mimics (in this case – pantomime) for illumination of the comical. Another significant example for the importance of gesture and mimics in expression of the comical (where it even evolves into a higher form of expression and transposes itself into a “method”, not into a “ultimate purpose”) – is the phenomenon of Monty Python and the whole system developed by the actors there on behalf of the gestures and mimics. They are the ultimate example how much one can reach a perfection in the use of gestual and mimic code (as well as the proxemic code – especially in the episodes like The Ministry of Silly Walk). Exactly that kind of a system, the existence of the certain determined code, is the objective of this particular research.
    The objectives of our research are the following:
1. To determine the specific actor’s code of Petre Prličko, i.e. his specific use of the gestual and mimic code in his acting performance. In other words, what characterizes the actor is his actor’s code, namely “the code”, i.e. “the system” that he applies in his acting performance. The goal of our investigation is to show that there is a specific actor’s code that Prličko uses in his acting performance, mainly gestual and mimic coded in its bases.
2. The second point of our research is to illuminate the fact that Prličko in his acting, i.e., in his actor’s code also implies something called as a “personal code” of the actor (the elements of his own personality – habits, mimics, sayings etc.) as a constitutive part of every actor’s performance.

    In other words, we could say that when it’s a matter of the actor’s performance, namely – of performing a role on a particular character or setting up a role, we always have present three different codes:
1. The character’s code in a play,
2. The personal actor’s code, and
3. The actor’s code, or the code that is obtained as a final product, as “compilation” or “junction” of character’s code and personal actor’s code.

    That can be presented in this way:

    What’s important to be mentioned is that the actor’s code isn’t only that individual/singular code, which emerges with a simple “junction” of the personal actor’s code and the certain character’s code… Actor’s code is also the code that is built/created/guild through implementing the personal code to the character’s code in general, namely through the implementation of more than one character code (of as many as the certain play has need of). So we speak of a higher level code, namely a certain system.




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