That actors act, and characters are played is hardly a remarkable observation, but it’s also a rather shallow one. This sequence – taken during the rehearsal and performance of a production staged by a small, amateur theatre group – is a first attempt to sketch what appeared to me to be much more than the hands of actors inside the glove-puppets of their characters.

From the first seated read-through, when characters exist only in the still-to-be-learned lines and stage directions of the script, they begin to be outlined by their movements, coloured by their words, and given dimension by their voice; their existence is legitimised by the play’s plot, and consolidated by the set and costumes, which make their world quite solid-seeming in its way. Indeed, there comes a point when actor and character almost seem to exist in parallel, both present but with varying degrees of corporeality depending upon whether the actor is in character or out, on stage or off, in costume or not, rehearsing, relaxing, or performing, about to go on stage, or has just come off stage.

All these different states blur the line that you might expect to divide actor and character, and for a while – until the final curtain comes down and the cast departs, anyway – these different ways of being, as it were, overlap and extend actor into character, and vice versa.

It sounds like the start of a pop' psychology field trip, I know, but it doesn't need any polysyllababble. After all, we know that, in our heavily mediated society, everyday life involves any number of 'acts of theatre'; many of them are performed unconsciously, and some are more honest than others, but in almost all of them we believe, or ask others to believe, that we're being ourselves – our one self. In contrast, the mechanics of the theatre – though they amount to an invitation to the audience to believe for the span of the performance – make the different 'selves', and the shifts between them, quite apparent. And it was those shifts, not actors acting or characters being played, that I was trying to sketch with On-stage/Off-stage.

© David Roberts 2019