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ALBA EMOTING: A Psychophysiological Technique to Help Actors Create and Control Real Emotions Susana Bloch Introduction In one of his letters to Madame Raffalovich, the nineteenth century French physiologist Claude Bernard writes about a great actress who had just finished playing a role in which she had vividly expressed her passion with running tears. When asked whether she actually felt the emotion she had represented as Andromaque, her answer was: "By no means. I was moved, as was my audience, by listening to myself. But I had no other sensation" (Bernard 64; my translation and emphasis). This example of an actress monitoring and adjusting the emotional value of her performance to optimize communication illustrates the actor's paradox described by Denis Diderot in 1757: "all [the actor's] talent consists not in feeling, as you suppose, but in rendering the external signs of the emotion so rigorously that you are taken in" (132; my translation). Diderot asserts that it is unnecessary, counterproductive even, for actors to worry about feeling emotions. Instead, he says, the entire effort of acting should be toward the dual projects of managing and monitoring the performing body to optimize the creation of emotion in the audience. This is in direct contradiction of the American "method" school of acting which asserts that the main project of acting is the creation of emotion in the actor. Diderot insists that only the objective appearance of emotion is important; Lee Strasberg asserts the preeminence of the subjective sensation of emotion. The research presented in this article proposes a performance technique which may unite both points of view, thus helping to solve the longstanding paradox. The technique helps an actor summon and control an emotion at will and is based on psychophysiological data obtained in laboratory conditions. The findings, showing that the precise, objective management and monitoring of the respiratory and expressive components of emotion contribute to an actor's subjective experience of emotion, have been published elsewhere (Bloch and Santibáñez; Bloch, Orthous, and Santibáñez; Bloch, Lemeignan, and Aguilera) and will only briefly be summed up here as needed. The technique itself will be presented and discussed in its general principles and use for actor training and eventual theatre performance.1 But first, in order to understand how the work presented in this article is related to the actor's paradox, it is necessary to delve into the nature of emotions. 121 122 Susana Bloch In everyday life the individual is continuously in one emotional state or another, but what is it that triggers or modifies such emotional states? Certain emotions are provoked by intense stimuli, but often a trifle—a falling leaf, a face in a magazine, a glance from a stranger—is sufficient to provoke an emotion or to evoke a memory associated with an emotional state. The emotion experienced will depend on the individual's unique history (what better example than that of Marcel Proust's famous "madeleine" dipped in the tea which re-actualized in him a sense of well-being from the past). In such cases the stimulation initially comes from the external world. But it is also possible—as we know from our own experience—that without any particular conscious reason, merely thinking of something may suddenly make us sad. In such cases the emotional arousal is produced by an internal stimulation, i.e., by a "spontaneous" intracerebral activation. Whether the triggering stimulus is external or internal, the feeling evoked is accompanied, however slightly, by modifications in facial expression, direction of gaze, body posture (expressive components of the emotion) as well as by certain changes in visceral functions (increased heart rate, stomach contractions, "redness" or pallor in the skin, acceleration of breathing, etc.). The theories which try to explain how emotional states are triggered range from those which postulate that emotions are determined by a cognitive appraisal of the situation to those that favor the notion forwarded by William James that emotions are the direct consequence of perceived bodily changes (see "What Is an Emotion?"). How to Produce an Emotion at Will Now the question is: how can one produce at will a certain emotion, controlling its beginning and ending and at the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3346
Print ISSN
1054-8378
Pages
pp. 121-138
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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