We like to license people. Societies, communities, herds like to demand, issue, grant licenses to people who perform services they want to control. There are three primary motives for licenses: to set standards and assure some reasonable level of performance; to tap into a delirious source of revenue via fees and taxes; to keep strangers out of an industry or trade and reserve the work and income for the politically connected few.
Does a license assure us that the service we pay for is the best? Will using a licensed plumber guarantee that our kitchen won't flood into our neighbor's living room or the licensed electrician's work won't sizzle the bedroom? Not a chance. Does a medical license guarantee the ethics, the truth, the cure? Since when? And I haven't slightest idea what a lawyer's license guarantees other than more lawyers.
Most societies license people to drive automobiles. Supposedly, it is to guarantee a level of competence and responsibility. But in fact, driver's licenses are issued to guarantee that there will be drivers to drive the economy that is, eureka!, based on the automobile. Carmakers, oilmakers, and "baby-on-board" makers are the license makers. Do drivers have to be moderately intelligent and moderately sane? Not at all... witness the vast majority of people who get behind the wheel of what is aptly called "a loaded gun" and who are not physically or mentally fit to turn the key and step on the pedal, emotionally challenged, gastrointestinally challenged, getting from here to there with the eye-to-hand skills of an artichoke. Is it a wonder that more people are killed and maimed on the roads of the world than on all the battlefields put together? Drinking, drugs, mobile phones, music-noise, chit-chat and driving, mixed together mayhem guaranteed by a license.
More outrageous are the things we do not license and the most egregious is parenting, giving birth to and raising children, especially the raising. Another vast majority... comprising adults who have no business being in the same room with children let alone birthing and raising them; who, generation after generation, transmit the moral and psychological infections that were raised into them. How is it that this essential, basic, vital, most important, most valuable human activity requires no skills, no experience, no training, no qualifications? Yes, yes, I know, I know... who would grant this license, who would make this determination, who would "god-like" be able to decide who should have and nuture children and who should not—with absolute neutral purity, untainted by the taints of organized religion, organized politics, organized origami? Who would grant this license? He—or she—whose name may not be spoken... probably. And that, as Lenny Bruce used to say, is that!
So let me offer a simpler, more accessible proposal, a closer to the heart and easier on the brain proposal. Given the glum and gloom of licensing in general (as tweedled and dweedled above), I'm proposing this: it's time to license actors! Yes, indeed, for the good of the community and the profession and the art and the box-office, it's time to quantify, qualify, evaluate, enumerate the standards of the art/craft of acting. In today's swamp of massing media, everyone (and his mother) is an actor, whether he/she is on a stage or the back porch, in front of an HD lens or the little youtubey eye of a mobile phone... unlicensed, unrestrained, uninvited. It's not much better in the professional world (acting for, or the hope for, money). Want to thread a pipe, twist a wire, do an abortion, act? Get a license. We need to know, don't you know, we need to be assured that we are being affected and moved and entertained by someone who is qualifiied to do that. Here, to launch the process, is my short list of qualifications for an actor's license:
Must be able to speak, not mumble, or moan, or twang, but to speak clearly, polyphonically (that means not in a monotone) and with a sense of projected, managed, lyrical language;
Must be able to move, not shuffle, not only from the waist up, with arms that have hands, with legs that have feet, with a face that has a body;
Must understand the words and sentences that he/she is speaking;
Must understand the feelings that he/she is feeling;
Must understand the story that he/she is portraying;
Must know who he/she is, where he/she is, and what he/she is doing.
Must believe what he/she is doing and must know how to transmit that belief to an audience that wants to believe.
Must never, never believe that he/she and the character are the same person (or animal, or tree).
Once again, the dilemma—who will make the determination and grant the acting license? A board of fellow actors? (Should I laugh or cry?) A board of acting teachers? ( If they could qualify for a license they wouldn't be teaching.) A board of directors? (If they could, they wouldn't.) The answer is... be patient. As the list of qualifications grows, evolves and is refined, the grantor of licenses for actors will be identified. It will be... she, whose name may not be spoken. And per Lenny, that will be that!