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An actor (or actress for female) is one who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs “in the flesh” in the traditional medium of the theatre, and/or in modern mediums such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hypokrites), literally “one who interprets”. The actor’s interpretation of their role pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is “playing themselves”, as in some forms of experimental performance art, or, more commonly; to act, is to create, a character in performance.
Formerly, in some societies, only men could become actors, and women’s roles were generally played by men or boys. In modern times, women occasionally played the roles of prepubescent boys.
After 1660 in England, when women first started to appear on stage, the terms actor or actress were initially used interchangeably for female performers, but later, influenced by the French actrice, actress became the commonly used term for women in theatre and film. The etymology is a simple derivation from actor with ess added. Within the profession, the re-adoption of the neutral term dates to the 1950–1960s, the post-war period when the contributions of women to cultural life in general were being reviewed. Actress remains the common term used in major acting awards given to female recipients.
With regards to the cinema of the United States, the gender-neutral term “player” was common in film in the silent era and the early days of the Motion Picture Production Code, but it is now generally deemed archaic. However, “player” remains in use in the theatre, often incorporated into the name of a theatre group or company, such as the American Players, the East West Players and so on. Also, actors in improvisational theatre may be referred to as “players”.
The first recorded case of a performing actor occurred in 534 BC (though the changes in calendar over the years make it hard to determine exactly) when the Greek performer Thespis stepped on to the stage at the Theatre Dionysus to become the first known person to speak words as a character in a play or story. Prior to Thespis’ act, Grecian stories were only expressed in song, dance, and in third person narrative. In honor of Thespis, actors are commonly called Thespians. To this day, theatrical legend maintains Thespis is a mischievous spirit; disasters in the theatre are sometimes blamed on his ghostly intervention.
Traditionally, actors were not of high status; therefore, in the Early Middle Ages traveling acting troupes were often viewed with distrust. In many parts of Europe, traditional beliefs of the region and time period meant actors could not receive a Christian burial, which left an actor forever condemned. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this negative perception was largely reversed as acting became an honored, popular profession and art.
Courtesy : Wikipedia