What gives actors their seemingly effortless memory capabilities? Could acting teach us something about memory and cognition, and could acting principles help those with memory problems?
These are the questions that cognitive psychologist Helga Noice (Elmhurst College) and her husband, cognitive researcher, actor, and director Tony Noice (Indiana State University) have set out to answer in nearly two decades of psychological studies of actors. ….
According to the researchers, the secret of actors’ memories is, well, acting. An actor acquires lines readily by focusing not on the words of the script, but on those words’ meaning ó the moment-to-moment motivations of the character saying them ó as well as on the physical and emotional dimensions of their performance.
To get inside the character, an actor will break a script down into a series of logically connected “beats” or intentions. Good actors don’t think about their lines, but feel their character’s intention in reaction to what the other actors do, causing their lines to come spontaneously and naturally. The researchers quote the great British actor Michael Caine: “You must be able to stand there not thinking of that line. You take it off the other actor’s face
Press release for article to appear in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol 14, No. 1
Now, this ain’t necessarily so, but it sounds plausible and the researchers in questions have spent a lot of time in serious consideration of this question. Either way, I kinda wish i’d had a drama teacher who believed this at school. I never had a great memory for mere words and was extremely antithetical to acting. The mere idea of faking ones feelings is somewhat distant to my mildly autistic scientists mind and the idea of faking things in the exactly same way time and time again was even more ridiculous. Although since it seemed utterly impossible to remember the words in the first place, I did not see how I’d ever be in a position to stand there pretending to care with someone elses words in my mouth.
I would have been interested to try it if they had told me that the words really didn’t matter very much, that i could use my own if i chose and that one should start from the circumstances. It would have changed my perspective considerably, i’d like to improvise.. it is after all what you and i do every day of our own lives. There would still be the problem of having to do things approximately the same each time and the cooperation required to avoid descent into anarchy. But it could have been a start.