In June of 2018, Tom Stroud (Principal Investigator), Ines Buchli (Co-investigator), and Gayle Murphy (Co-investigator) received two-year funding for a project titled Utilizing BOS Method of Emotional Effector Patterns (EEP) as a Mechanism for Emotion Control in Contemporary Acting from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The funding was awarded to investigate the EEP’s effectiveness in providing a support mechanism for the professional contemporary actor in the stimulation and regulation of emotion.
The BOS Method of Emotional Effector Patterns (EEP) are a physiological system to train actors to access and modulate the expression and communication of their emotions at will in an objective way without the use of past personal experience. The EEP were developed by psychologist Susana Bloch, neurophysiologist Guy Santibañez, and theatre director Pedro Orthous. (The acronym “BOS” references the first letter of each of the originators’ surnames.) The originators studied differences in muscle tone and breathing in relation to basic emotions. They discovered that by changing breathing patterns and by activating specific muscles to change facial expressions and body postures, emotions can be accessed in a purely physical way. (For more information regarding EEP please click here)
The SSHRC research conducted by Stroud, Buchli and Murphy was driven by the need to develop a safe and ethical practice for the actor and the emotional challenges encountered by the actor working with the stylistic diversities of contemporary theatre practice. The central questions posed were: Can the BOS Effector Patterns offer actors a means to safely access emotions and mitigate any detrimental emotional impact associated with actor vulnerability? Can the patterns help actors adapt to different styles of theatres and find consistency in repeating emotional moments in relationship with scene partners?
The following content outlines the project rationale; the scope, objectives, and methods; and a summary of the findings. It should be noted that the material in this document represents research completed in 2020 and that since then additional research based on the findings has been significant in the development of Emotional Fluency Training for Actors.
Expressing emotion is the primary method in which an actor is able to communicate with an audience. Although it is a given that an actor must possess the ability to freely portray the full range of human emotion, how an actor achieves this remains the subject of debate. Historically, since Diderot’s publication of Paradoxe sur le Comedien in 1830, which argued that great actors should not experience the emotions being portrayed, Western acting theorists and practitioners have remained divided into those proponents who are more aligned with Diderot’s notion of detachment where the physical attributes of emotion are demonstrated to an audience and those who contend that the actor must draw on personal experience to identify with the character in an attempt to genuinely experience the emotions being portrayed (Konijn,2000:21).
The vast majority of actors utilize both approaches resulting in a blend of personal identification and personal distance from the role being portrayed. “Most actors simultaneously create a ‘me’ and ‘not me’, an oscillation between self and other that takes place during rehearsal and performance.” (Thomson & Jacque, 2012:361). This “oscillation” is often referred to as a “dual” or “double consciousness”. Although it is accepted that actors employ both approaches to generate emotion, there are differing views on whether the emotion the actor experiences in performance can be considered “real”.
Notwithstanding the divergent views on the nature of emotion in performance, there is agreement that actors who are engaged in the process of identification with character can confuse the distinctions between real and imagined or self and character. Tzachi Zamir explains that “theatrical incarnation is the most powerful form of identification imaginable; it is a planned act of deeply thought identification on behalf of actors who have to imagine and assume an alien existence, to experience and convincingly project it” (2010:237). Konjin suggests that “the impersonation of emotional behavior can and of itself however provoke feelings, which the actor may believe to be the emotions themselves.” (2000:98).
Given the variants in the actor’s personal experience, their temperament, and the content and style of the production; the degree to which actors should or should not draw on personal experience in the creation of a role may be impossible to determine. However, there is mounting evidence to support concerns that actors who do access personal experience may suffer psychological consequences and that the emotions experienced during performance, whether real or imagined, can result in stress that can impact the actor’s emotional well-being.
In Stage Actors and Emotions at Work, sociologist, Stina Blix suggests that “even if the events that originally triggered the feelings have long since been forgotten, the emotional sensitivity to certain situations remains” (2007:166). Thomson and Jacque confirm these concerns. In Holding a Mirror Up to Nature: Psychological Vulnerability in Actors, Thomson and Jacque utilized the AAI, (Adult Attachment Interview), considered to be the gold standard for assessing states of mind regarding past experiences of attachment, trauma, and loss, to compare the psychological vulnerability of actors and non-actors. The study found that “during discussions about past trauma and loss experiences, the actor group had a higher proportion of disorganized–unresolved classification as compared with the control group.” The findings raised concerns that “the specific demands of creating and portraying a character may have increased unresolved mourning in the actor group”. (Resolved and unresolved mourning, as explained by the authors, are states of mind indicative of the actor’s ability to manage painful past experiences). The study also found that the actor group also had significantly higher scores on the DES-T, a taxonic measure suggestive of pathological dissociation, which could support the theory “that trained professional actors may employ dissociative processes to alter self-perception and blur boundaries between “me” and “not me” when they create characters” (2012:366-367). These concerns are echoed in a study investigating the psychological wellbeing in acting training, Exploring psychological wellbeing in acting training: an Australian interview study, that found “in acting training, two additional levels of destabilization were identified: inhabiting difficult psychological territory, and losing sight of the boundary between self and character” (Rob & Due, 2017:21).
In addition to empirical studies concerning the emotional vulnerability of actors there is ample anecdotal evidence to support this claim. In an article published in the Guardian 'When you cry, you really cry': the emotional toll of stage acting, seasoned actors Kate Fleetwood, Michelle Terry and Ben Miles expressed the emotional challenges involved in their profession. Fleetwood explains “If you spend your evenings going to these horrible places, it’s part of your life”. “You’re not just technically producing it. When you cry, you really cry – physically, emotionally, everything. It’s in you. It’s part of your life”. Terry notes that “You’re not meant to feel those feelings all of the time. It’s an emotional shock, having to remind your body of feelings you’ve felt in the past”. “It came with consequences, carried off stage into life. I was living with a low-level grief”. Miles points out that “The process of training or rehearsing is really good at getting you inside the world of a play, inside the mind of a writer or the psyche of a character, but there’s nothing about dropping it”. Comments such as these highlight the emotional stresses in the acting process. (Trueman,2016)
Actor vulnerability is further complicated by the stylistic diversities within the field of contemporary theatre where distinctions between disciplines, style, and methodologies have become blurred or irrelevant. “The heterogeneous diversity of forms unhinges all those methodological certainties that have previously made it possible to assert largescale causal developments in the arts. It is essential to accept the coexistence of divergent theatre forms and concepts in which no paradigm is dominant.” (Lehmann, 2006:20). Devised theatre, collaborative creation, inter-disciplinary creation, testimonial theatre, institutional theatre, film, and television provide a partial list of the forms the professional contemporary actor will encounter, and each production will present the actor with its own unique emotional challenges. Konijn summarizes these challenges regarding the use of emotion into three stylistic categories: involvement, associated with Stanislavsky based methods, in which character emotions must be seen as “real” and should connect with the actor’s own emotions; detachment, associated with Brecht, which rejects the principle of identification and believes character emotions are “shown” or “demonstrated” in a reproducible form; self-expression, associated with Growtowski, where the expression of the actor's own authentic emotion is central to the technique (2000:3.2) .
Whereas an actor would normally work to perfect one stylistic approach, a mastery of all three is highly unlikely and the actor is often left with the daunting task of navigating performances without adequate or appropriate skills. As Zarrilli confirms, “for the contemporary actor who is exposed to and/or expected to perform in a wide variety of types of theatre/performance, the actor’s perception and practice of acting is a complex, ongoing set of intellectual and psychophysiological negotiations. These negotiations are between and among one “self” and a variety of (explicitly or implicitly) competing paradigms and discourses of acting/ performance” (2002:2). Yet, despite the stylistic diversity of the contemporary acting field, Stanislavsky-based methodologies rooted in actor and character identification remains the predominate approach to creating character in North America if not all Western-based theatre. Zamir contends that “the idea that one kind of excellence in acting is achieved if the actor manages to obliterate altogether the distinction between identity and role underlies highly popular acting techniques. (2010:228) and concludes that “most forms of acting share the requirement to experience or project an intense identification of actor and character (2010: 237).
Methodologies that promote character identification can offer many actors a valid approach to the creation of character, but for those actors who may experience emotional sensitivities to certain areas of expression, imagined situations, or struggle with the ability to fully recover from the portrayal of intense emotion, alternative approaches are required. As Blix contends “the difference between an actor rehearsing an emotion-laden situation and experiencing a similar real-life situation is a matter of degree rather than quality. The difference lies in how the situation is confronted and handled, assisted by the actor’s range of professional techniques, rather than in the actual emotions.” (2007:170).
The research suggests that balancing “identification” with approaches that allow for more “critical distance” or “detachment” from the role being portrayed is key in ensuring the actor’s well-being without sacrificing artistic integrity. Thomson and Jacque argue that this “distancing process” is what allows many actors to monitor and regulate their vulnerability during the creative process (2012:361). For Zamir, whether an actor identifies with the character or not, the result is the same and he contends that “the audience takes part in a form of imaginative existential expansion that the actors are embodying with or without the actors experiencing it.” (2010:232).
In addressing the actor’s need to retain a respectful and healthy distance from the stressful or unwanted aspects of identification with the character, the ability to enter and exit performed emotion safely, and to contend with the diversities of the contemporary performance, the potential of the Emotional Effector Patterns was of keen interest environment.
SCOPE, OBJECTIVES AND METHODS
The proposed SSHRC research was exploratory, qualitative, and non-predictive. The main objective of the project was to determine if the EEP can provide the actor with a safe, practical, and effective methodology to consciously control the degree to which they engage in a process of emotional identification or detachment from the character, monitor and regulate actor vulnerability in the creative process, and minimize post-performance stress.
Concerning the stylistic complexities of the contemporary theatre milieu, the research objective was to determine if the BOS effector patterns can provide the actor with an adaptable methodology to meet the specific emotional demands of a given style whether realistic, abstract, narrative or image based. The assumption was that given the EEP are not associated with a specific style of acting but meant to complement existing techniques and assist the actor in the control of one theatrical element only, emotion, they can then be easily adapted to any performance style. This assumption needed to be tested.
The research methods were categorized into three areas of inquiry: a) direct observation with a small group of actors in a rehearsal and performance setting to monitor the actors’ experience of the EEP in the creative process, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the EEP in rehearsal and performance, b) questionnaires distributed to the actors prior to, during, and after the training, rehearsal and performance process, c) questionnaires distributed to audience members to assess audience experience of the performances.
The intention in this part of the inquiry was to monitor actors utilizing the EEP in a creative process and to replicate as closely as possible the actor’s experience in the field.
Auditions were held in Vancouver and Toronto to select four actors from each community. Although the sample size was extremely small, selecting performers from two performance communities to some degree, reflected variations in style and approaches to theatre in the two centres. Both graduate students and professional actors were encouraged to participate in the study. In addition to the normal audition process to establish competency, performers were interviewed to ensure there was clear understandings of the research parameters and that they had no previous experience of working with the EEP.
Following the selection process, the actors in Vancouver and Toronto received a 30-hour introductory training in the EEP. The training was also open to professional actors in the community. In the introductory training, participants learned the six basic patterns paying attention to the precise technical details of the breath patterns, facial expressions, and postural attitudes. Participants were also introduced to Step-out, a neutral pattern which allows the actor to return to emotional neutrality – essential in creating a safe and solid foundation for emotion regulation within the practice. The patterns were then explored in interactions with partners and applied to monologues and group improvisations. At the end of the introductory training, participants achieved a clear understanding of how the EEP work and a basic knowledge of how they can be applied to the art and craft of acting.
Having completed the Introductory Training, the actors were led through an Intermediate workshop which was designed to introduce the actors to more complex emotions, extended range, group improvisation, scene work, and style. In Vancouver, the actors were given a three-day intermediate workshop, while the four actors in Toronto participated in a 5-day intermediate workshop which included members of the professional community that had previously completed an introductory workshop. Although the variation between communities was not part of the initial research design, including community members in the Toronto intermediate workshop provided valuable information in developing how best to integrate the Emotional Effector Patterns into the acting process.
The introductory and intermediate workshops were led by Laura Bond, Ines Buchli, Tom Stroud, and assisted by Gayle Murphy.
The final stage of the research was devoted to a three-week rehearsal process of four challenging scenes in a variety of styles led by Ines Buchli, Gayle Murphy, and Tom Stroud. The scenes were then given two performances to an invited audience from the theatre community and general public with minimal production values in Vancouver at the Dorothy Somerset Studio Theatre at UBC, June 27 and 28, 2019, and in Toronto at the Joseph G. Green Theatre at York University, August 1 and 2, 2019.
The performed scenes included:
Way of the World by William Congreve (Restoration Comedy), *Vancouver only
Love and Information by Caryl Churchill (Post Dramatic), Vancouver, Toronto
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (Classical), Vancouver, Toronto
Rabbit Hole by David Aubaire (Psychological Realism),Vancouver, Toronto
Phaedra’s Love by Sarah Kane, (Post Modern), *Toronto only
*Following the performances in Vancouver, Phaedra’s Love replaced Way of the World for the Toronto performances. Although working a Restoration comedy with the EEP was valuable, it was felt Phaedra’s Love offered more of an emotional challenge and an additional stylistic exploration.
The rehearsal process consisted of daily preparatory practice with the EEP, and a series of explorations using the patterns to score the script to predetermine character response, modulate the intensities of the emotions, and test repeatability. In testing the efficacy of the EEP the actors were asked not to employ other acting techniques such as objectives, strategies, substitutions, or the creation of a character backstory.
Actors were interviewed prior to the beginning of the project, after the second workshop, and after the final presentation. The data was then coded and analysed during the fall of 2019. The eight actors were given numbers so their interview answers were anonymous to the researchers.
Actor questionnaires and interviews were developed and conducted by Sarah Petty. Ms. Petty was a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Manitoba and held a BA (Honours: Acting) from the University of Winnipeg. In addition, she completed a 30-hour training in EEP.
The intent of the first questionnaire was to determine the actors training background; their approach to the creative process; their understanding of emotion from their training; the techniques they utilized to access emotion currently; their ability to repeat an emotion; the degree to which they draw from personal experience in the development of a role; and if they had experienced or witnessed any adverse effects connected to the use of emotion in classes, rehearsals, or performances.
The second questionnaire, conducted after the intermediate workshop primarily focused on the actors’ experience of the EEP: in terms of a comparison to their previous approaches to emotion; their ability to easily enter and exit emotion without the use of personal experience; repeatability; range of emotion; application to text; connection to partners; and use of breath.
In the third and final interviews, conducted several weeks after the final performances, the actors were asked to respond to the same questions posed in the second interviews in light of their additional experience with the EEP in a rehearsal and performance setting.
Audience members were comprised of members of the theatre community and the general public. Attendance at the two performances totaled 48 in Toronto and 48 in Vancouver for a total of 96 respondents.
At performances, audience members were presented with a series of questions. After viewing each scene, they were asked to indicate their response on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "not at all" and 5 being "fully". The questions for the audience pertained to the actors’ ability to immerse themselves in the character; the characters’ emotional effect on each other; their ability to embody the world of the play; the actors’ believability; the audience’s level of engagement; and whether they were moved by the performance.
To account for variations in style, not all questions were the same for all scenes. For example: believability was more relevant in the style of Psychological Realism (Rabbit Hole) than in the non-realistic Post Dramatic (Love and Information) where audience engagement was more relevant.
To minimize stylistic bias and to achieve a reasonable representation of the audience experiences, each of respondents total score for all scenes was averaged to provide a rating between 1 to 5 of their combined experience of all of the scenes.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
The data from the initial interviews strongly suggested that: an understanding of emotion, and how to access and exit it was not clearly addressed in their training; the ability to repeat an emotional moment was often a “hit or miss” proposition; and that the majority of actors had experienced or witnessed adverse emotional experiences in their training or rehearsal process.
Conversely, in the second and final interviews the actors reported that the EEP gave them: a clear and specific method to enter and exit an emotion; an ability to regulate levels of emotion; a greater sense of specificity; a practical and efficient method for repeatability; a stronger connection to partner; a common language for emotion; and an ability to monitor lingering adverse effects of emotion (what we call an emotional hangover).
The audience questionnaires indicated a credible and engaging performance experience. Of the 96 audience members rating their viewing experience on a scale from 1 to 5, 89.58 % rated their experience 4 or over, 93.75% were 3 or over, and only 2.08 % were under 3.
Direct observations were provided by the Principal and Co-Investigators and the observations made by the actors were reported in daily debriefings. These observations echoed the results from the second and third interviews. That is to say, the use of EEP gave the actors: a clear and specific method to enter and exit an emotion; an ability to regulate levels of emotion; a greater sense of specificity; a practical and efficient method for repeatability; a stronger connection to partner; a common language for emotion; and an ability to monitor lingering adverse effects of emotion.
Through the application of the EEP as a rehearsal technique the actors developed a greater awareness and ability to sense the emerging impulse to action throughout their entire bodies.
This in turn, in conjunction with the improvisations, functioned as a means to generate fully embodied, physical, and spatial relationships for the staging and blocking of the scenes. Furthermore, the EEP provided an effective warm-up prior to performance and as a back-stage preparation for the actors before entering the scene.
An important finding was the distinction between an actor not being fully “cognitively clear” versus being cognitively clear but not fully “physically clear”. Not being cognitively clear is when an actor retains emotion after a rehearsal or performance blurring the boundaries between self and character and they may be unable to identify the source of the emotions they are experiencing. Being cognitively clear but not physically clear is when an actor is clear about the distinction between self and character but still retains some physical tension in the body after a rehearsal or performance. During the project there was one incident where an actor was not cognitively clear after a rehearsal and several actors who reported being cognitively clear but not physically clear. In both incidences, the issues were resolved by providing additional restorative exercises.
The project demonstrated that the EEP can provide the actor with a powerful tool to safely and efficiently enter, exit, and regulate emotion without the use of traditional acting techniques (objectives, tactics, personal identification). In terms of mitigating any adverse emotional experience there was a need for additional “clearing” of emotion through restorative exercises beyond what was provided through the step-out procedures.
As a model for the creative process, the EEP provided a way for directors and actors to communicate about emotion and character in a manner that was specific and practical, and in conjunction with the improvisations, functioned as a stand-alone process for creating, directing, and recreating performance in a number of styles.
Although the potential for the EEP to improve the standard of safe and respectful practice in the rehearsal and performance process was clearly demonstrated, more research will be required to determine: the use of the EEP in the early stages of actor training where emotional sensitives and the potential to blur boundaries between self and character of younger actors may be a greater risk factor; and how the use of the EEP can be integrated into existing acting techniques, training models, and professional practice. An additional line of inquiry into the correlation between the EEP and other emotion regulation strategies would also be of value.
Blix, Stina Bergman. “Stage Actors and Emotions at Work.” International Journal of Work Organization and Emotion 2.2 (2007): 161-72. Print.
Konijn, Elly A. Acting Emotions: Shaping Emotions on Stage. Trans. Barbara Leach with David Chambers. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000. Print.
Lehmann, Hans-Thies. Postdramatic Theatre. Trans. Karen Jurs-Munby. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Robb, Alison E., and Due, Clemence. “Exploring Psychological Wellbeing in Acting Training: an Australian Interview Study.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 8.3 (2017): 297-316. Print.
Thomson, Paula, and S. Victoria Jacque. “Holding a Mirror Up to Nature: Psychological Vulnerability in Actors.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 6.4 (2012): 361–69. Print.
Trueman, Matt “'When you cry, you really cry': the emotional toll of stage acting.” The Guardian. 11 Aug. 2016, Culture, Stage sec. Web. 20 Nov. 2017.
Zamir, Tzachi. “Watching Actors.” Theatre Journal 62.2 (2010): 227-43. Print.
Zarrilli, Phillip B., ed. Acting (Re)Considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.
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