So what’s going on inside the heads of actors?
Sure, acting requires memorization and a host of complex cognitive skills like imagination and empathy to evoke visceral emotions and create authentic characters. And actors carefully block out movements during rehearsal so their lines are always matched to the same physical motions, forming a kind of bodily mnemonic device.
But do actors actually think when they act? And what do they think about?
“There’s no doubt that actors’ brains differ in important ways from the brains of accountants, cab drivers and neurosurgeons,” noted cognitive scientist Bruce McConachie in a recent issue of American Theatre magazine, “but exactly how and why, no one knows.” Most of the evidence is merely anecdotal rather than scientific.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet noted in his book Theatre that an actor thinking only complicates matters: “They need only say their lines and get out of the way of the play.” Of course, Mamet believes that a director thinking is also unnecessary, suggesting that “they should make sure the actors don’t step on each other’s lines… and then get out of the way of the play.”
There are hundreds of books on acting technique, from Stanisklavsky’s time-honored tome “On Acting” to Stella Adler’s “The Art of Acting,” that offer advice about what to do to prepare for a performance. But they share little insight into what occurs in the mind during one.
To help advance the state of neurological research, but without all the paperwork, two prominent, deep-thinking, Cleveland-based stage performers – Marc Moritz and Marc Jaffe – sat down at a local restaurant to discuss this issue. And to have a light snack.
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