Acting Talent: Nature, Nurture or a Little of Both?

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Julie H. Jordan

All of us who have attended or participated in theatrical productions have probably witnessed that one actor who stood out above the rest. This particular person could be given any number of roles in various genres (comedy, drama, musical, etc.) and would still shine just as brightly on the stage. So, this begs the question, what components contribute to such talent? Is that person just born with it, or are other factors at play?

Now my experience with this is somewhat limited. I have a theater minor from a college not specifically known for its theater program at that time (although it has grown by leaps and bounds since) and I took just a couple of classes from a local professional theater, so I’m not sure I have all the answers. However, I look to other areas to try to arrive at the truth.

I think we can all agree that to be good at anything takes, at the very least, practice. Well, unless you are a friend I had in college who could cram an entire semester into on evening and ace the final. There will always be exceptions, but honing a skill through repetition, feedback, and correction (of those elements that don’t work) is certainly beneficial toward the desired result of excellence.

In his 2011 article in Independent, Michael Syed examines what constitutes and promotes musical talent, but I think his study has applications here. His study of British musicians found that “the top performers had learned no faster than those who reached lower levels of attainment. Hour after hour, the various groups improved at almost identical rates. The difference was simply that top performers had practiced for more hours.” In an October 2016 article in Backstage, Jo Ann Baron and D. W. Brown suggest that talented actors are both “born and made.”

So, I suppose it’s fair to say that it’s a matter of opinion, but as a final thought, those classes I took did give me new insights on performing that I have retained to this day. In other words, some education and a whole lot of practice certainly don’t hurt!