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University of Pennsylvania

States of Consciousness in the Actor

Examining the Conscious Experience of the Authentic Dramatic Performance

Anna Dailey

Consciousness Spring 2017

Instructed by Dr. Russell Epstein

Final Word Count: 5553 words

In this paper, I investigate the process of double consciousness in actors in pursuit of an authentic and
truthful portrayal of a character. I begin by describing the magic of acting, why we do it at all, and how to do
it well. In addition, I explain my interest in the topic and my opinion of why the study of art through a
scientific lens valuable and worthwhile. I set parameters about what type of performance I aim to dissect and
discuss the qualities and experiences of a truly authentic performance. Double-consciousness is the term I
use to describe the phenomenon of interestthe experience of transporting ones consciousness to the mind
of the fictive character in the play. To achieve this goal, the actor uses imagination, memory, emotion, and
attention, all of which I discuss at length. I connect the ideas of the many acting theorists to supporting
evidence from neuroscientific scholars as well as some of my own phenomenology, as I am an actor myself.

For thousands of years, humans have engaged in the practice of live performance art. Specifically, people
have been drawn to the stage for the purposes of story-telling, entertainment, and joy. Live theatre, in my
opinion, is a unique and invaluable tool that allows audience members to be transported to a new place and
time as they follow the plot of the play closely from the edge of their seats. Watching a play is like peeking
in on someone elses life while going unnoticed like a fly on the wall amid an exhilarating or sometimes
tragic vignette.
Those who beget this magic, the actors, have an incredible honor or a daunting task of creating these
vignettes for spectators viewing pleasure. An actor aims to bring integrity and authenticity to the work of art
by breathing life into it. He wants to be so fully immersed in the character and the circumstances that the
emotions he evokes are real, at least enough to fool the audience. For the actor to reach this state of being
of living in that moment inside the character he must transcend his own consciousness. If it is done right,
the actor becomes not only a representation of the character, but an embodiment of it, with true and natural
emotions, behaviors, and reactions. This type of performance leaves the audience breathless and allows the
actor and the onlooker to exist together, frozen for a moment in timethe actor in a state of consciousness
that is the character, and the audience suspended in a state of complete and total belief.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the array of theories and schools of thought about the actors
conscious experience and the strategies he uses to portray a successful and believable character. I intend to
use cognitive neuroscience as a sieve to help me sift through many of the widely-accepted theories of
acting, many of which are contradictory to one another. I will examine how imagination, memory,
emotion, and attention work together to evoke an authentic dramatic performance in any given scene.

The Impulse to Play

I felt vulnerable, invincible, gigantic, and tingly all at the same time. I
knew why I wanted to be an actor; I couldnt understand anyone who
didnt. Eric Morris 1988: 261
Why are humans drawn to acting? Actors have a unique opportunity to step outside of their own lives
and be someone else, which is an invigorating and cathartic experience. When I walk into rehearsal after a
long and stressful day, I am always relieved to shed my frustrations and worries in the doorway of the studio

and assume the role of someone completely different than myself. This desire to see the world from inside
someone elses head is a natural human instinct. The choice to step out of myself and experience an entirely
new life through the perspective of a fictional character is one that I cherish and would encourage every
person, regardless of occupation, to try at some point. The essence of playing pretend is exciting and
childlike, reminiscent of school children playing make-believe in their grassy backyards until their parents
call them in for dinner. The famous actress Lucille Ball described the feeling of authentic acting experiences
as the enchantment of play. Eric Morris, a prominent actor himself, argues that the need to fantasize is
innate in humans and that most of the time it disappears as we get older [because] it isnt encouraged
past a certain point, and we lose that wonderful ability to believe (Morris 261).

Art Through a Scientific Lens

To learn about the conscious state that occurs in the minds of the most successful actors, I turn to
cognitive neuroscience. Many of the original theories of acting developed based on limited knowledge of the
brain. Theories of acting have a slow rate of evolution and are arguably lagging behind the rapidly-changing
neuroscientific research that occurs today. I intend to use cognitive neuroscience to comb through the many,
sometimes contradictory, theories of acting that pervade the field today. I believe this strategy is useful
because, as put by cognitive neuroscience expert Rhonda Blair, how we understand acting is contingent,
even if only implicitly, on how we understand basic human functioning (23). In addition, the study of acting
can provide information about what it means to be, and about consciousness in general. Ralph Yarrow,
author of Indian Theatre: Theatre of Origin, Theatre of Freedom, asserts that the study of actors methods
helps us get a better picture of the full engagement of knowing, being, and doing (Yarrow 19).
Historically, the relationship between post-modern theatre and science has been somewhat immiscible.
However, both fields of study have an abundance of information to offer each other. As we learn more about
consciousness, it only becomes more essential that we continue to investigate cognitive, behavioral, and
emotional processes that affect the actor. Although some acting theorists may resist the idea of hard
science for fear of overcomplicating a somewhat innate skill and causing the magic to disappear, Blair is
convinced that the science does not take away the human, [from the] theater and performance; rather, it
provides tools to engage these more closely (6). Thus, studying subjective acting methods through a
scientific lens proves to be a valuable and worthwhile endeavor.
I want to be clear that when I talk about acting, I am not speaking generally; I am not talking about
the teenagers that perform magic tricks at Disneyland, nor am I referring to the celebrities that crack jokes in
modern comedic films. I am interested in acting in its purest and most authentic form. This is not to deem
one style of expression better than anotherall forms of art are justified in their own way; I am simply most
interested in this particular type of performance, and find it to relate most closely to the subject of
consciousness. Material such as dramatic plays, monologues, and scene work have the potential to inspire
this quality of acting. In addition, I am specifically interested in the processes and strategies in the conscious
mind of the seasoned, extensively trained actor. For the most part, the methods I describe are only
consistently effective after considerable time, effort, and study. Thus, an actor who is just beginning his
study of the skill may not be able to reach an intellectual or conscious level until he studies for many years.
Initially, I am drawn to the word realism as I describe this style, but that word implies a certain era of
work in theatre history, so I instead focus on words like truth, authenticity, and purity. We, as the audience,
want to watch people living onstage unobserved by us (Kogan 52). In other words, we do not want to
watch actors recite their lines, we want to watch them experience feelings that lead to thoughts, which inform
behavior. Achieving this quality of acting is difficult but unforgettable when it is done successfully, which is
why it is the premise of this paper

Key Players

Called the father of modern acting, Konstantin Stanislavsky is perhaps the most influential player in all
of acting theory and the first theorist to focus on applying science to the practice of acting. Beginning in
1906 in Russia, Stanislavsky journaled about his struggle trying unsuccessfully to tap into the mystery of
acting (Blair xi). Thus, he began his quest of the secret of good acting. His work was informed by the
research of Thodule Ribot, William James, and Carl Lange as well as that of Sigmund Freud, although he
rejected certain aspects of the Psychodynamic Theory. Stanislavskys years of groundwork, coupled with
new insights into the world of cognitive neuroscience, influenced the theories of the most prominent
American scholars of acting: Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner, whose work will appear in
numbers throughout this investigation. Stanislavsky taught the manipulation of attention, memory, and
behavior to arrive at an authentic performance. (Blair 46). The more modern theories, however, are more
centered around emotion and how to access real feelings that lead to spontaneous and genuine behaviors.
Now, concepts of consciousness and personhood are defined more precisely, allowing us to understand the
workings of the actors mind more clearly. Theories of acting vary in specificity and focus; some are more
centered around practice and others are strictly hypothetical. From all of them, I pulled what seemed to be
the most prominent and essential tools, which unmistakably inform the conscious state of acting:
imagination, emotion, memory, and attention.

The Actors Experience: Reaching Beyond His Own Consciousness

Double Consciousness in the Actor

[We want to know about] the precise way and moment that awareness arises
out of the body [and into the character], about the moment that it becomes
possible for the body to ask, as the actor does at the first rehearsal, Who am
I? Where am I? Blair 2008: xiv

Within the research community and throughout history, scholars have debated about the nature of
consciousness as it is manifested in the body. The concept of mind-body dualism, the idea that the mind and
body are separate, has been cause for controversy since Plato (Blair 6). I am operating under the assumption
that mind-body dualism creates a conscious experience that is not only defined by the physical constraints of
the body, but is also subjective and is heavily influenced by social situations and our environment. Each of us
holds a sense of identity or self that allows us to navigate through situations, while maintaining our
consciousness. Sense of self is believed to be relatively constant throughout a lifetime, and is thought to hold
the key to a persons core identity. It contributes to the overall narrative that plays out in ones head and
manifests in neural processes (Blair 16). In the words of Damasio, the essence of core consciousness is the
very thought of youas an individual being, involved in the process of knowing your of own existence and
of the existence of others (126). Consciousness as I see it includes, but is not limited to, the continuous
stream of images, words, feelings, and sensations that occurs privately in the mind.
The physical origins of consciousness in the brain are very much up for debate, although a prominent
theory that seems to align well with my purposes is the Global Workspace theory (Bernard Baars 1988)
which implied that there is no one brain region responsible for consciousness. Instead, consciousness arises
from the activity across all synapses in the mind and maintains a stream of thought. Ironically enough,
Baars uses a metaphor of the theater of consciousness to represent the unconscious mind (the audience)
observing the conscious mind (actors) in the spotlight, hiding from view the executive processes (director)
making it all happen.

Now that we understand the concept of sense of self and our conscious experience, we can explore
the conscious mind of a fictive character. The up-and-coming acting theorist Sam Kogan claims, and most
theorists would agree, that a character is a unique consciousness with its own personality, environment,
memories, and feelings (Kogan 52). The actor keeps hold of his core consciousness but extends his emotions,
attention, memory, and imagination in a way that transports him elsewhere.
Acclaimed actors who are known to portray truthful and natural performances often describe their
experience as a transportation into the mind, body, and situation of their character. In other words, actors
strive to achieve an altered state of consciousness, feeling truly alive inside the life of the fictive character.
Stanislavsky described this phenomenon as a complex consciousness that inhabits the entire body, in which
the voluntary processes are inseparable from involuntary ones and in which genetic predisposition is
inseparable from personal history (Blair 52). This transport of mind could be considered an multiple or
altered state of consciousness, similar to one that could occur due to psychedelic or mood-altering drugs. In
order to get there, the actor has to tap into resources such as imagination, memory, emotion, and attention.
Elly Konijn, a student of Stanislavskys methods, names this altered state of consciousness double
consciousness. Konijn argues that his theory of double consciousness accounts for the wide range of
emotional theories and common practices of modern theorists, and claims that it aligns with Stanislavskys
teachings as well (Bockler 60). Konijns writing is somewhat abstract and focusses heavily on thoughts and
behavior, ignoring cognitive neuroscience entirely. However, I use the term double consciousness throughout
to define the state of consciousness that occurs during authentic and effective acting.
From the perspective of a non-actor, it may seem abstract and improbable for someone to purposefully
alter their consciousness this way. However, some scholars would argue that this double consciousness exists
for all of us throughout our lives. Jessica Bockler suggests that the double consciousness of an actor
being oneself whilst being in a roleis indeed a universal phenomenon, from which none of us are exempt
(Bockler 61). Blocker is implying that all humans present masks, ideal projections of who they could be, to
others depending on the social situation. These masks can change based on social interactions, culture, and
mood. Think about the way one might present himself in an interview versus at an intimate gathering with
his dearest friends. This phenomenon implies that double consciousness may be quite a natural occurrence,
and could potentially explain the actors draw to theatre as an art form. Those who do not pursue acting may
just be settling into one of these various masksthe one that they may present to the world. This concept
leads me to question the social pressure to present behaviors that represent a sort of unity of self in ones
personality. Those who appear to have many faces and personalities may be perceived as untrustworthy or
unstable (Epstein May 1, 2017).
The process of achieving this state of double consciousness begins in the rehearsal. In the studio, the
actor must do research and extensive critical thinking about their character. After that, they must figure out to
harness the proper emotions, which can be accomplished via a variety of techniques. Depending on the
method used, the actor might engage their own past experiences and memories to bring life to role. Blair
argues that the heart of the work must be a deeply private engagement with the material in order for the
actor to produce authenticity. We have to dig deep to engage a breathtaking expanse of desires and drives
(Blair 1). Finally, on stage, they portray the appropriate expressions and behaviors that make the
performance believable to the audience.

Preparing the Body and Mind to Achieve Authenticity

Actors can work to train their instrument and master a process that will enable them to
create reality from an exciting and emotionally colorful place. To reach the magic of
acting, an actor must be open, available, and expressive. He must be free of restrictions,
inhibitions, and self-consciousness. Eric Morris 1988: 261

Theorists of acting all describe the proper way to prepare the mind and body for authentic acting, but two
points of contention persist throughout these discussions. Firstly, scholars of acting debate over whether

actors should impose their own baggage personal history, personality, mannerisms, opinions, and
experiences on the script, or if they should clear their body and mind to a blank canvas before assuming
their character role. Eric Morris strongly believes that for an actor to be ready to become a character, he must
strip away inhibitions and elevate his consciousness out of his own body, so that he can access the
consciousness of the character (263). This elevation allows the actor to escape his own preconceived biases
and truly play. Yarrow shared a similar belief and argued for this blank canvas premise as well. If I want
to be something else, I have in some way had to leave being what I think I am behind added value comes
at a costto acquire this kind of consciousness, this facility of performative being, you have to kill what you
most love: your self (Yarrow 19). He describes a technique of Kathakali used in certain Indian
performance training in which the students lay on the ground before each class so that the instructor can walk
up and down their backs, realigning their muscles and joints. When the students arise, the bodily sensations
supposedly create an experience of new being; they feel like new people and are ready to explore their
performative characters (Yarrow 20). This theory aligns with the Baars Global Workspace model because
Baars argues that consciousness is a limited entity. Therefore, ones consciousness cannot expand infinitely;
when it reaches capacity, something must be lost in order for something new to be gained (Baars).
Stanislavsky and his followers take a somewhat opposing view of this concept of a blank canvas. This
school of theories teaches that actors must bring emotional truth to the work by evoking past emotions,
memories, and experiences and using those to generate appropriate behaviors. Stanislavsky believed that the
actor reaches [his] subconscious by conscious means and that the new consciousness of the character is a
created human spirit (Stanislavsky 209). Although he did not use the word at the time, this idea aligns well
with the double consciousness theory. This viewpoint would likely be supported by William James, who
used a stream of consciousness to direct attention to different stimuli (James). This attention could also be
used in memory recall to relive an experience, which we will discuss in detail on page 6.
Secondly, scholars disagree about the level of cognition that should be present in acting.
Meisner teaches his students that acting should involve no thinking whatsoever. He is known for exclaiming
his signature phrase during class: How does an actor think? He doesnt thinkhe does! (Tribble 136).
Meisner students are trained to act only on impulses and natural instincts and to stay completely focused on
the scene partner, their reactions, and the energy in the room. He believes that the concept of cogitation and
preparation improving acting is false and that in performance, the body is smart, intelligence put on the
flesh we are the smartest when we stop thinking (Huston 6).
On the other hand, Stanislavsky believed that cognition is the key to truthful acting because the
manipulation of consciousness is the only tool that truly allows for a transported mind. All action in theatre
must have an inner justification, be logical, coherent, and real (Stanislavsky 46). Morris also discusses the
years of training that an actor needs to be able to tap into the right conscious state, and the necessity of
training implies that cognition is essential in some way. This side, the one that supports cognition in acting,
is the most valuable for my purposes, because I intend to explain the tools (imagination, memory, emotion,
and attention) that the actor can consciously manipulate to reach double consciousness.

The Actors Tool Belt: Achieving Double Consciousness

I walk onstage and instead of an empty space, bare floorboards and theatre walls I
see an orchard, its Spring, a warm breeze and the sound of a bird singing, I am 32
but really 45, I am in the year 1894 but really 2005, I am engaged for the first time,
but really married with 2 kids. All of this performing self is an illusion, an imagined
state, a series of thought forms so strong and so focused they reach across a boundary
and draw in the other (the audience) who willingly contributes to the thought form.,
an act of suspended disbelief. Jade McCutcheon 2006: 31

In order to reach a double-conscious state, the actor must first imagine what it must be like to live in the
life of the character they are portraying based on the characters circumstances. Stanislavsky worked
extensively with his actors to ensure that they engage with the role and the story. He advised his students to
construct the characters narratives based on the relationship they likely had with their environment and their
situations. Stanislavskys famous if technique guided his actors through the behaviors of their characters by
asking questions like Based on what I know about my character If X were to happen, how would he
feel? Would he express this feeling, or hold it in? How would this expression manifest in my body and on my
face? (Stanislavsky 63). This exercise is reminiscent of a classic theory of mind test, in which subjects must
predict what others are thinking and feeling based on a certain prompt.
The concept of theory of mind applies to the actors process because he needs to imagine the mind of a
fictive character. Michael Graziano and Sabine Kastner propose that consciousness is so closely related to
social ability that it surely must be derived from the same neural mechanisms. They argue that when we
build models of other peoples minds, we are contributing to our own sense of self in relativity to others.
This theory is based in evolutionary origins because one who is best able to read the mind of a predator is
more likely to survive and pass on his genes (Graziano). Using theory of mind to build a model of a
characters mind seems like an excellent first step to understanding how to portray him, and since this
process may lie in the same neural foundation as our own sense of self, it seems logical that our own
consciousness should have no problem transporting into the consciousness of the character.
Other evidence also supports this strategy. Wilson, who discusses a web between the social world and
the individual, would agree that ones identity is shaped by his interpretation of the people around him. This
evidence supports the idea that the best way to understand the characters identitythe conscious identity
that the actor is trying to transport himself tois to research and plan the backstory, personality, and
circumstances of the character. Cognitive neuroscientist Roy F. Baumeister discusses imagined states and
consciousness in a way that supports this idea. He looks at consciousness as a tool to understand and navigate
the social environment and to understand the contents of anothers mind (Baumeister). If one can use
consciousness to imagine the conscious state of others, it seems clear that one could imagine the conscious
state of a fictive character, thus supporting once again the premise of double consciousness in acting. Rhonda
Blair describes the ideal strategy of preparation as one that is specific in its examination of every word of the
script and every image that would be associated with every word. While playing a specific role, she said she
developed a consciously vivid and kinesthetic sense for the layout of the offices outside her office door
(which were not present onstage) (77). This strategy allowed her portrayal of the character to be fuller and
deeper, she said. This type of vivid imagination is the first tool that an actor uses to set himself up for success
and prepare to take the stage.

Emotion and Memory

Now that the actor has imagined the inner workings of his character, how does he go about portraying
the correct dramatic expressions on stage?

The talent of a good actor lies in the fact that he can reproduce the external
signs of an emotion preciselyand in such good measure that the spectator
will be convinced. The actor, however, is not the character. The illusion is
yours alone.Konijn 2000: 23

The emotional process of the actor is perhaps the most controversial topic of the theories of acting.
Theorists disagree about whether actors should be drawing only on their own memories and emotions or
whether they can access imagined or false ones using their imaginations, regardless of if they had ever
actually felt them. Stanislavskys view on this matter evolved over time. Initially, based on Freuds work, he
believed that an actors only tools were the emotions and memories he possessed (consciously or
unconsciously) that he could never portray an emotion that he had not experienced himself. However, later

he amended this claim by acknowledging the possibility of imagining new emotions. Most modern theorists
today agree with the latter viewpoint. Recent research about the human memory strengthens this claim
because findings imply that our memories are not as accurate as we once believed. They are known to be an
unreliable or approximate process of neural pattern reactivation: the neural patterns that are activated to
retrieve a memory a memory is never precisely the same thing twice, because the brain changes at least
minutely with each event (Blair xiii). For this reason, most theorists agree that it is useless to constrain
ourselves to the experiences we have already had. To me, this makes complete sense. Think of any story with
a suicide in it, for example; if to achieve authenticity the actor needed to have experienced suicidal thoughts
and actions, who would play that role? No one would be alive to do so. This new school of thought argues
that what matters most for the actor is not recapturing the most accurate memory, but understanding that
memory is a phenomenon of the moment, to be used in the service of creating and performing a role, which
would cause the actors range of expression to as deep and wide as possible (Blair 75). Cognitive
neuroscientist and emotion theorist Daniel Schacter, as well as others, have found convincing evidence that
our retrieval of memory is quite inaccurate. They are encoded along with emotional information that alters
them each time they are recalled. This supports the idea that memory is not exact, and therefore there is no
such thing as a truly accurate retrieval of an emotion (Slotnick and Schacter 811).
Damasio makes an important distinction between emotion and feeling when he says that a feeling is the
perception of a certain state of the body (the emotion) along with the perception of a certain mode of thinking
and of thoughts with certain themes (Damasio 86). In other words, the feeling is the emotion brought to the
forefront of consciousness. Damasio and many other scholars in the field, many of whom cite William
James, agree that emotions, feelings, and behaviors become linked over time (associative learning) and can
be stored away as schemas for use throughout life. These schemas can be used to replicate feelings or
expressions in acting. For example, if I learn over time that when someone says something rude to me
(stimulus), it makes me feel sad (emotion feeling), and then I may respond with an expression of how hurt
I feel while using a melancholy tone (expression and behavior), I can replicate that pattern in my acting to
reach my goal.
Formally known as the Actors Dilemma is the debate over the degree of similarity an actor should have
between his own emotions and the emotions of the character. Elly Konijn divides the wide array of opinions
on this matter into three schools of thought or methods: Detachment, Involvement, and self-expression.
Konijns work culminates in the claim that double consciousness accounts for all three of these methods.
The Detachment method demonstrates double consciousness explicitly and clearly; the actor does not
combine his emotions with those of his character, but he presents both at the same time. He uses imagination
to figure out how the character should behave, but remains himself all throughout. Detachment theorists
would say that a happy character does not need to be played by a happy actor (Konijn 39). This method is
perhaps the most simple, and arguably the easiest, because it involves more shallow transport of
consciousness, one that is imagined but not lived in. The actor knows the emotions that the character should
be feeling and behaves accordingly, but he himself does not experience those emotions.
Involvement, the category that Stanislavsky would fall into, is the method in which actors utilize their
own emotions and match them to ones that fit the character and plotline (Bockler 52). At best, the actor
transcends his own will and lives the part, not noticing how he feels, not thinking about what he does, and it
all moves out of its own accord, subconsciously and intuitively (Stanislavsky 61). The Involvement actor
puts on a mask and uses cognition to preemptively select emotions to consciously evoke that suit the moment
in the text. Stanislavskys emotional strategies were largely informed by the work of William James. He
wanted acting to the artistic embodiment of the inner emotional experience (Blair 61). His followers, like
Strasberg, emphasized a similar ideathat the correct way to approach emotion in acting is by arousing our
own conditioned emotions. Thats how were trained, not from Freud, but from Pavlov (Strasberg 198).
Strasberg, the father of the Method, based his technique off of Stanislavskys use of affective memory. This
technique involves using carefully selected stimuli to cause an authentic emotional reaction based on some
conditioned association from the actors personal history (Blair 45). For example, if an actor needed to evoke
feelings of grief for the purpose of a scene, he might keep an orange peel in his pocket so that he could smell
it before going onstage, the smell evoking powerful feelings of his late grandmothers orchard. Damasio

taught a similar practice of using somatic markers to link body-states to our conscious responses to stimuli.
Damasio students try to replicate those somatic markers in order to evoke the correct emotion, which stirs up
the correct feeling, which inspires the correct behavior (Bair 63). For example, an actor who needs to express
fury on stage might clench his fists for 10 minutes before entering. The success of these techniques aligns
well with the cognitive neuroscience research of William James. James argued that the physiological
symptoms of emotion lead to the conscious perception of our feelings. The practice of clenched fists leading
to authentic anger is convincing evidence for this theory (Printz).
The double consciousness of the involvement styles consists of the actor living in the part of the
character, while still maintaining his core consciousness. He lives, weeps and laughs on stage, and all the
while he is watching his own tears and smiles. It is a double function, this balance between life and acting
that makes his art (Stanislavsky 61). His actions are intuitive, because he is immersed in the consciousness
of the character, but his core consciousness observes what is occurring. This concept of the overserving self
and the acting self pervades across several theories, including that of theorist Wilber (2000), who discusses
the proximate (observing) self and the distal (observed) self during acting. Checkov taught a similar
phenomenon in his own methods, although he referred to the two selves as higher and lower. Wilbers
theory of the two selves explains all transpersonal states (those that involve a sense of expansion or shift
beyond the ordinary self), such as dream states, near-death experiences, mystical experiences, empathy, and
psychedelic experiences (Bockler 62). These occurrences could be identified as doubly-conscious, which
would lead me to believe that they may have similar neuroscientific bases to the doubly-conscious state that
occurs in acting.
The Self-Expression method can be interpreted as the opposite of the involvement method. Instead of
living fully in the characters consciousness (involvement), or equally balancing both consciousnesses
(detachment), the self-expressive actor remains completely inside his own consciousness. He simply uses the
text and the character to explore and expose the inner workings of his own psyche (Bockler 61). This
method would be the one that Freud would likely agree with. This theory is the least common and is the
hardest to rationalize with the premise of double consciousness. Many theorists disagree with this method
when used in practice because it may not do justice to the script; the show becomes more about the people
onstage, and not about the story at hand, which can be off-putting as an audience member.


During every moment we are on stage, during every moment of

the development of the action of the play, we must be aware either
of the external circumstances which surround us (the whole
material setting of the production), or of an inner chain of
circumstances which we ourselves have imagined in order to
illustrate our parts Stanislavsky 1936: 63

The last tool that an actor uses to achieve double consciousness is his attention. Because in our normal
lives, we constantly experience a stream of consciousness, (like watching a continuous film of sensory
information and thoughts inside the head) an actor must somehow simulate this experience when he
transports to the altered state of consciousness. Gazzaniga describes this phenomenon by saying there seems
always to be a private narrative taking place inside each of us. It consists partly of the effort to fashion a
coherent whole from the thousands of systems we have inherited to cope with challenges (Gazzaniga 23).
An actor must be completely in the moment, never losing touch with the stream of thoughts passing through
his mind. Depending on his emotional method (Involvement, Detachment, or Self-Expression), the nature of
this stream of thoughts will vary.
The actor uses his attention to shift the course of his thought stream ensure that he maintains an unbroken
series of images (Blair 61). The concept of a stream of thought is well-exemplified by William James. His

assumptions about consciousness are that every state is part of consciousness, that personal states are
always changing, that personal consciousness is sensibly continuous, and that it is interested in parts of its
object and excludes others. He says that attention is used as a tool to direct the stream of thought to change
course and that the conscious experience is never broken (James). If we apply that premise to the theory of
acting, we can see how large of a challenge it must be to replicate that stream of thought in ones double
consciousness. It is critical that the actor stay absolutely focused on his (the characters) objectives and
feelings, not losing connection for a moment. If this attention can be maintained, so then can the stream of

The process of achieving an authentic and truthful performance onstage will likely never boil down to a
single method. Strategies and their successes vary between people based on their backgrounds, skills, beliefs,
and the works of art they are trying to convey. Similarly, the inner workings of our conscious minds are still
somewhat mysterious to the scientific community. In both fieldsacting and the science of consciousness
theories clash and we need years of further research before we will be able to ween our variety of viewpoints
down into one cohesive theory. Because the conscious experience is subjective and personal, we struggle to
find a methodology that applies equally to all minds, and with the same success. I stand strongly by the idea,
however, that whatever the answer, it will involve the manipulation of imagination, memory, emotion, and
attention without which, I do not believe we can reach double consciousness, nor a truly authentic
performance onstage.
Although it will be a challenge, I assert that continued investigation of this matter will be a worthwhile
endeavor, because of the irreplaceable experience of when its done right when the actor so deeply
immersed in the character and the moment that the audience is completely committed to the make-believe,
leaning in anxiously to see what will happen next. In this moment in time, the audience and the character
exist in the story together, creating a unique work of art that can never be replicated in exactly the same way
againthe magic of live theatre. When the scene is over, the actor and the observer take a collective breath
and slowly trickle back down into their realities, waiting a moment before clapping as they come back to
their senses. They remember that the character is an actor and that they are spectators and erupt in applause
and delight; they are delighted to be spellbound. When the curtain closes, the two parties part ways and move
with their lives, but the experience can never be un-lived. These magical moments stay with us forever and
draw us back to the theatre again and again, hungry for more.

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