Research Spotlight: Reconciling mind, body and feeling in acting

to be or not to beActors often are asked to mine their emotions and conjure up memories to bring substance to their roles for the stage or the big screen. But many become too focused on getting a feeling or a memory exactly right – what Professor of Theatre Rhonda Blair calls a “neurotic preoccupation with authenticity.” On the other side of the issue are performance theorists who discount the validity and importance of emotions for actors.

Blair’s own work turns to cognitive neuroscience, the study of the relationship between biological mechanisms. Cognitive science shows that memory, imagination, emotion, physicality and reason are all connected – “and they are all, in many ways, a process, not pieces to be held onto and practiced individually,” Blair says. The goal of her research “is to teach actors to be less focused on themselves in a psychoanalytic sense and more on the role – on being as engaged as possible with the role and the audience. By doing so, actors can focus on what they can take from their experiences and imagination in service of the role.

Read more from the SMU Research magazine online.