In June of 2018, Tom Stroud (Principal Investigator), Ines Bucihli (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). SSHRC is the major federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. 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 research is driven by the need for safe and ethical practice for the actor and the emotional challenges encountered by the actor working within the stylistic diversities of contemporary theatre practice.
The BOS Method of Emotional Effector Patterns are a physiological system to train actors to access and modulate the expression and communication of their emotions at will in an objective way with a minimal use of past personal experience. They were developed by psychologist Susana Bloch, neurophysiologist Guy Santibañez, and theatre director Pedro Orthous. (The acronym “BOS” refers to the first letter of the surname of each of the originators.) 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 expression and body posture, emotions can be accessed in a purely physical way. The central questions of this current research investigation are: Can 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? (For more information regarding EEP please click here)
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).
Currently it is accepted that in the creation of character 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. 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; it would seem 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 speaker’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 recent 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).
There is no doubt that methodologies that promote character identification can offer many actors a valid and respectful 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 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 distance from the stressful or unwanted aspects of identification with the character, the ability to let go of performed emotion, and contend with the diversities within the contemporary performance environment, the Emotional Effector Patterns’ potential is significant.
SCOPE, OBJECTIVES AND METHODS
The proposed research is exploratory, qualitative, and non-predictive. The main objective of the project is 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 identification or detachment from the character, monitor and regulate actor vulnerability in the creative process, and minimize post-performance stress. As Blix states “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.” (Blix, 2007:170).
Concerning the stylistic complexities of the contemporary milieu, the research objective is 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 is 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 must be tested.
The research methods are categorized into two areas of inquiry: a) a questionnaire distributed to BOS Method Effector Patterns practitioners to determine the extent the effector patterns are being employed in the field, the ways they are being applied, their effectiveness in providing emotion control and mitigating actor vulnerability, and their adaptability to style, b) 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.
Through shared lists and/or distribution in partnership with associations or practitioners, a database of EEP practitioners will be established. Later a comprehensive questionnaire will be distributed to willing participants designed to solicit basic statistical information regarding age, gender, nationality, training background, professional experience, areas of expertise, as well as detailed information regarding their experience with the Emotional Effector Patterns (years of experience, level of certification, how and to what degree they employ the effector patterns, and how they would rate its effectiveness.) The data will then be analyzed, and the findings will be formulated and used for publication and further research.
The second method of inquiry will be to work directly with two groups of four actors utilizing the EEP in a creative process that will replicate as closely as possible the actor’s experience in the field.
Auditions will be held in Vancouver and Toronto to select four actors from each community. Although the sample size is extremely small selecting performers from two performance communities, will to some degree, reflect variations in style and approaches to theatre in the two centres. Both graduate students and professional actors will be encouraged to participate in the study. In addition to the normal audition process to establish competency, performers will be interviewed to ensure there is clear understanding of the research parameters.
Following the selection process, the actors in Vancouver receive a 30-hour introductory training in the EEP. The training will also be open to professional actors in the community. In the introductory training, participants will learn the six basic patterns paying attention to the precise technical details of the breath patterns, facial expressions, and postural attitudes. Participants will also be 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 will then be explored in interactions with partners and applied to monologues and group improvisations. At the end of the introductory training, participants will have 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.
After the completion of the Introductory Training, the four project actors will be given a three-day intermediate workshop in more advanced application of the EEP to scene work and style.
The final stage of the research will be devoted to a three-week rehearsal process of scenes in a variety of styles, with performances with minimal production values to an invited audience. The scenes will be chosen based on the performers, the emotional challenges within the scenes, and the stylistic variations based on Konijn’s categories for the use of emotion (involvement, detachment, self-expression). The rehearsal process will consist of daily preparatory practice with the EEP, and a series of experiments using the patterns to score the script to predetermine character response, modulate the intensities of the emotions, test repeatability, and vary levels of identification. All rehearsals will be documented on video. In the third week, the scenes will be presented with minimal production values to invited audiences. The audience will consist of theatre practitioners and general audience members. Audiences will be given a questionnaire to gauge their response to the actor’s authenticity or “believability”.
The process in Toronto will be identical with the exception of the application process, which will be 5-days and open to professional actors in the community who have completed a 30-hour introductory training. Although adding two days and additional performers to this stage of the process will be a variation from the Vancouver process, it will be interesting to note any differentiation between the two groups.
The Introductory Trainings in Vancouver and Toronto will be led by Laura Bond with assistance from Tom Stroud. Laura Bond is a Full Professor of Drama and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Director of the Arts and Ideas Program at UNC-Asheville, a professional Equity actress, director, singer, and voice-over artist. She is internationally recognized as a master teacher of the emotional effector patterns, a certified master teacher of the Estill Voice Technique, and a founding member of the Emotional Body method. The Application Workshops will be led by Bond and members of the research team including Stroud, Buchli, and Murphy.
Actor questionnaires and interviews will be developed and conducted by Sarah Petty. Ms. Petty is pursuing PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Manitoba and holds a BA (Honours: Acting) from the University of Winnipeg. She has also completed a 30-hour training in EEP. The actors will be interviewed prior to beginning the process to determine how they approach the creative process, to identify the degree to which they draw from personal experience in the development of a role, and to provide a reference point to compare their creative process prior to working with the EEP. The actors will then be interviewed at each stage of the process to document their experience of working with the EEP as an alternative to the way in which they normally access emotion in rehearsal and performance.
Upon completion of the research activity, the research team will compile, evaluate and draw conclusions from the gathered information and the findings will be utilized for further research, presentations, and publication.
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.