Psychophysical actor training differs remarkably from psychological actor training. According to Merlin (2005, p.4), psychophysical training is a type of training in which the body and psyche, the outer expression and the inner sensation, are integrated and interdependent. The brain is said to inspire the emotions, and these emotions prompt the body into actions that are very expressive. The body is said to arouse imagination, which in turn activates one’s emotions. It is the work of the emotions to stimulate the body into a state of creativity.
Stanislavsky coined the term ‘Psycho-technique’, which was then developed by Michael Chekhov. Psychophysical training, for these two actors, involved a complete integration of physicality and psychology, elements that were the basis of actor training in Russia (Goldstein 2009, p. 6). In his last days of his life, Stanislavsky tried his best to solve the psycho-physical contention in human acting by finding a very integrated psycho-technique.
In psychophysical acting, both the method of active analysis and physical action are similar during the process of rehearsing. Rather than making use of imaginative visualizations or sedentary textual analysis, actors access a character through their own experiences. In other words, they get up, the start doing it and they start improvising.
In an attempt to describe psychological acting, psychologists have focused on verbal skills as one of the most important aspects of acting. Goldstein (2009, p. 6) observes that when non-actors are taught how to make use of techniques that actors normally use in order to memorize lines, (carefully and extensively elaborating script, self-referencing and taking perspectives) their memories tend to improve drastically. This improvement spans across all age ranges. It applies to a college student in the same way that it does to an 85-year old.
Still on the issue of psychological acting, some researchers have devised a programs aimed at increasing memory skills among people of all ages. They have demonstrated that when young children are acting out stories inside a classroom, their language and reading skills as well as oral comprehension of different stories that they are acting out become more strengthened compared to those of the children who choose to simply read out the same stories (Goldstein 2009, p. 7).
Goldstein (2009, p. 7) believes that although memorization of words and many other verbal skills are very essential to an actor, these abilities are not at the heart of acting. One may have a sparkling ability to articulate words by having an excellent verbal memory, yet he may find it very difficult to portray certain characters in a convincing manner. There is an element of acting that requires the actor to live truthfully under completely imaginary circumstances (Silverberg 1994, p. 9). In order for one to be able to perceive imaginary circumstances, psychophysical acting has to be employed, in which case the intended character is portrayed in the right way.
A great actor is recognized by the ability to live through the feelings of the character while on stage, to create emotions as well as to regulate them in oneself. The psychological actor training that Stanislavsky introduced at the start of the 20th century entailed more than mastery of bodily and vocal techniques; it also entailed an educational approach to the development of human imagination (Silverberg 1994, p. 9). On the basis of this, Stanislavsky coined the term ‘affective memory’. Affective memory is an important psychological aspect of actor training that enables actors appraise and interpret both the major and minor phenomena around them,
Some scholars argue against over-dependence on affective memories because of their tendency to distort memories and lines of thinking. The same case applies in the case of acting. Thus the same reasons are given by opponents of psychological acting. Sometimes, an actor may find it difficult to locate a specific affective memory even after intense training, mainly because of involuntary suppression and self-censorship.
Both psychological performance and psychological performance practice work best when used together because in both cases, emotions are regulated. Psychologically, actors are trained to create the emotions that are appropriate for a certain character. In psychophysical training, the actors are trained to perceive the spatial-temporal dimensions of the stage in a way in which the feelings they are expressing seem real. In other words, the inner psyche and outward expression are interdependent.
Gescheide (1997 p. 5) defines psychophysics as the scientific study of the relationship that exists between stimulus and sensation. The problems that psycho-physicians try to solve constitute some very fundamental problems that puzzle modern psychologists. On the basis of this assertion, an actor who undergoes psychophysical performance training also encounters problems relating to psychological acting. After all, success in acting entails the ability to succeed in a psychological notion known as emotion regulation (Gordon 2009, p. 115). Part of the psychological actor training in today’s drama books is the ability to store up to 12 affective memories in order to be able to improvise many characters on stage as need arises (Gordon 2009, p. 115).
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Zarrilli (1997, p. 103) reports that the experience of acting various works composed by Samuel Beckett “stinks of mortality”. This is because the actor is expected to go through an excruciatingly difficult process of embodying various elements and going through many contrapuntal turns of thoughts. In other words, the ‘bodymind’ of the actor is precariously counterbalanced and counterpoised ‘at the edge of his breath’.
Acting Beckett also highlights various moments of unavoidable ‘suspension’ that is always present during acting, as every actor tries to ride the thought/breath/action. It is at this moment when the possibility of an impending failure becomes palpable. At this moment of possible failure, the perceiving consciousness is the one that makes it possible for the actor to utter words even in situations where no breath seems available (Zarrilli 1997 p. 104).
Zarrilli (1997, p. 104) believes that for actors to be able to play out characters in Beckett, they have to be taken through daily martial arts training in order to attune their bodyminds such that they can ‘stand still while at the same time not standing still’. The skills learnt through this training provide the actors with the skills for them to become aware of sensory exercises and improvisatory movement. Such way of training actors entails both psychological and psychophysical approaches.
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While rehearsing and acting out the Beckett scene assigned to me by the director, I found myself focusing more on the psychophysical elements at the expense of psychological elements of the training. I found it easy to discover what was required of every performative moment through conscious association of physical movements as opposed to particular decisions of the mind. I also found it easy to learn how to embody decisiveness of various spatial elements that were around me on the stage, through time. At the same time, the relationship between my bodymind and breath seemed to be very detached; it that had been learned through rehearsals and not conscious thought.
The most difficult bit was about focusing on very minute details; details that were so minute that they became instantly laughable as I acted them out. This kind of precision necessitated an internal focus on my own body while simultaneously paying attention to the external focus through an exterior point in order to ensure that whatever I was feeling inside me was getting out. It was very difficult to reconcile the inner and the outer world while at the same time letting the piece do the work. I attribute the inner world to have been influenced by psychological actor training while the outer perspective was influenced by the psychophysical training acquired through martial arts.
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My experiences during the acting sessions seem to be explained by Stanislavsky, who believes that the task of every actor is to express faithfully, an apex of hierarchy of various theatrical signs in a highly interactive performance. The pre-established role of the author is brought out through a convincing mimetic representation that takes the form of delineation of human behavior. Merlin (2005, p. 37) states that for Stanislavsky, it is primarily through acting that plays are actualized.
When perceived as physical training, actor training seems to lack in creativity. As Merlin, (2005, p. 38) notes, after long periods of rehearsals, an actor may feel that a certain seam of creativity remains unexploited. At such times, actors tend to remind themselves that there is art in acting; that acting is not merely a physical activity to be rehearsed and vocalized for many hours.
Many actors who focus on psychophysical actor training while paying little or not attention to the psychological aspects of the art tend to feel humiliated for being unable to understand the meaning of the whole thing. It is the responsibility of an actor to remember about the artistic element of acting, to work upon it, and to value it (Silverberg 1994, p. 23).
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In order for psychophysical and psychological dimensions to actor training to work together, it is important for the nature of emotions to be understood. Merlin (2005, p. 38) notes that regardless of whether any significant outward change in our emotional composure appears, tension in our inner musculature tends to adapt to each change of mood. Therefore, if every emotion tends to make a biological impression, then it is true to say that every human being possesses an intricate compendium of different emotions that are imprinted on his musculature (Merlin 2005, p. 38).
Accordingly, it is true that every emotion that a person goes through tends to have a unique bodily reverberation. Those actors who adopt a psychophysical approach to training tend to work towards suppressing these physical expressions of emotions instead of learning to regulate them psychologically. This explains why they end up feeling humiliated by lack of creativity in rehearsed pieces of stage performance. Therefore, it is not possible to do away with the interdependence between muscle and emotion.
Stanislavsky was influenced by contemporary discussions on the relationship between emotion and physical actions to the point where he suggested that the muscular memory power was completely independent on the original emotion’s strength. This implies that in times of enormous emotional tension, the muscles tend to preserve these emotions for longer than they do with other daily experiences that badly need to be expressed on stage.
Goldstein (2009, p. 13) highlights the relationship between psychological and psychophysical dimensions to acting by giving the example of a scenario whereby the simple act of pouring a cup of tea makes a great actor become clumsy just because of lacking the right emotional composure for the act.
In conclusion, although psychological and psychophysical approaches to acting seem to be completely different schools of thought, they are very much intertwined. Actors should act both psychophysically and psychologically in order to reconcile their muscular movements with various forms of emotion regulation that are needed in order for the characters that are created to be appear as realistic as possible.