Proto-acting is introduced here as a new concept that refers to a set of processes that are intermediate between everyday role playing (in the Erving Goffman sense) and dramatic acting. Its most characteristic process is the voluntary act of personal mimicry, which can occur in everyday contexts, such as quoting someone during conversation, or in performance contexts, such as impressionism. Proto-acting involves character portrayal, but on a much simpler and more transient scale than in dramatic acting, where a person may portray a character for an extended period of time during a stage performance. For example, this might involve impersonating the characters while reading a bedtime story to a child, or children themselves portraying characters while engaging in pretend play. Other key features of proto-acting are that it tends to be driven by gesture, have minimal scripting, and involve short bouts of alternation between the self and characters. Proto-acting, as based on personal mimicry, might provide a cognitive foundation for dramatic acting in human development. Moreover, proto-acting itself might be underlain evolutionarily by the process of pantomime, which often involves intentional mimicry of the actions of other people. Hence, the proto-acting concept is able to shed light on processes relevant to cognition, development, the performing arts, and human evolution.
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