“The art of acting today will also look outdated in a few decades.”

“The art of acting today will also look outdated in a few decades.”

As a flutist, Jed Wentz used to be on stage, but acting turned out to be something completely different. When you play an instrument, the audience is actually looking at something they can’t see: the music. “But when you act they look at your body. The first time was awful.” However, Wentz (1960) thought he should. As a music historian at Leiden University, he researches the traditions of opera performance, voice art, and text recitation, and trains himself in techniques he finds in ancient sources. “But you have to experiment with interacting with the audience, otherwise you won’t be able to say anything about the influence of style or style of play.”

On Sunday, Wentz will perform at the Luther Museum in Amsterdam with a program of melodrama and poetry from around 1900. He is accompanied by Artem Belogorov on piano and Octavi Dostaler Lalonde on cello. On Friday May 27, a completely different program in which Wentz participates in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ: FW Murnau silent screening Tartouf (1925) with live music by pianist Olga Pashenko. Wentz composed talented compositions and provides live sound effects: when someone knocks on a door on the screen, Wentz knocks on a piece of wood. He affectionately calls these effects “naive”: “Just because anything is possible on screen these days, it’s nice to lose yourself in such a silent movie.”

The melodrama party at the Luther Museum has the title hamlin piperWentz stresses that it’s not a prom for kids. It will present a melodrama with the words of poet Robert Browning, inspired by the Grimm fairy tale, and poems by Walt Whitman, Lord Byron, and Edgar Allen Poe. There is music by Schumann and Debussy, among others.

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Melodrama (music with narration) and silent film: they seem to be two completely different sports, but Wentz makes clear that they are closely related. Both types are rooted in the recital tradition that we nowadays quickly call “exaggerated,” or exaggeration: grand gestures, extreme facial expressions, carrying speech. Wentz: “It’s not for everyone and you shouldn’t like it, but why has this gameplay worked for centuries? Why aren’t we open to it any longer?”

Part of the answer to this question is our current visual culture. We’re used to close-up shots, different camera angles, and quick editing. “Before the 20th century, there was a very different light, and little vision. As an actor, you had to have a strong voice to reach your audience. There are detailed resources on the pitch and dedicated speaking as an expressive tool. With specific facial expressions and gestures that convey emotion. It was sort of body penetration: The trick was to let the viewers really experience those feelings. We can no longer tolerate such feelings, or only if they are ridiculous, as is the case with Brecht. ”

Music historian and rhetorician Jed Wentz: “Reading was to express feelings.”

Photo by Lars van den Brink

Wentz takes pretending the realism of current acting style with a grain of salt. “If you study the ancient sources, you will read over and over again that people believe that there really is a natural style of acting. In a few decades, acting today will also look outdated.”


Wentz was born in the United States, moved in 1982 to the Netherlands and since 1990 has Dutch citizenship. His ambition is to help young people from all walks of life learn to speak: “You don’t have to read Aristotle and Quintilian, rhetoric is about speaking well and with a free voice. This is something for everyone, and it is to empower people authentically.”

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In December, Wentz will organize for the first time a three-day theater festival in Leiden, under the pseudonym rather than acting, in collaboration with Leiden University and the Utrecht Early Music Festival, with which he is associated as a consultant.

Wentz tells an anecdote about the eighteenth-century actor Jean Pont, who became famous for a certain monologue: “When Pont spoke of his monologue, the audience stopped the music to recreate the scene themselves, they were very moved by it.” And that was exactly the point: “Those beautiful plays of Shakespeare or Racine were written with the intent of conveying a strong emotion. There are tracts from the eighteenth century that describe how feelings sometimes change within the line. The audience at the time realized that. It is a series of wonderful techniques that you have to learn to read. “.

While studying this technique, Wentz made use of silent films, which preserved the last stage of the old acting tradition. “I’ve been searching for it intensely for ten years now and I’m still discovering new things.”

Luther Museum Amsterdam. Deklamatorium: Oboe of Hamelin 15/5. Musical building in Amsterdam. Hare Tartov with live music. 27/5.

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