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Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

INDIVIDUAL-SELF Submitter: Reg. No: Year: Tapaswi H M 123603006 2nd Semester

Submitted to: Dr. Meera Baindur The Scope of this essay on self and theatre is to explore how far notions of self are interwoven with the theatre. It seems to be important to discuss something regarding the notion of self in theatre with the help of some theatrical theories like Stanislavskys book An Actor prepares. Part of the reason for this interest is that whenever we talk about theatre and acting, we are indirectly enforcing some notion of self and embodiment upon the actor. It follows that whenever we talk about so-called realistic acting as such, we are majorly concentrating more on the embodiment part of acting. Thus in one or the other way we follow certain characteristics of the self. On the other hand, this essay also tries to explore some rudimentary answers for the questions like how this notion of embodiment is to be enforced on the actor, how an actor conceives this notion, what are the preliminary actions to be taken by an actor to overcome this supposed problem of embodiment. This is to be done by the analysis (based on certain theories) of major experiences which are faced by the actor upon stage like anxiety, some sort of stage fear and the other sorts of feelings and emotions. All these are my hypotheses. Moreover all these hypotheses are to be examined under the light of certain primary sources. They are, the book An Actor prepares written by Stanislavski who was an eminent stage director, actor cum the co-founder of the remarkable theatre called Moscow Art theatre. This essay also tries draw certain arguments here and there from the book Creating a role and Building a characterwritten by Stanislavsky. Apart from all these theoretical books, I would also like to include certain empirical examples that happened at Ninasam, if need be. Thus, by containing all these argument I would like to negotiate how this notion of embodiment works in the field of theatre. [Keywords: Theatre, subconscious, self, embodiment, Stanislavsky, space, imagination, fantasy] Introduction This essay raises questions about two major elements of embodiment process in acting. One is the definition of theatre and second is the problem of embodiment in the theatre. Since this concept of theatre can be extended to various other activities, for this work I would only consider drama performance or precisely HMT1

Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

theatrical acting as the theatre. Apart from the drama performance or drama theatre, we can consider folk forms as theatre, film field as theatre and many other artistic forms as theatre. But if we consider all those forms it may cross its limits and we would loose concentration on a single unique point. For that reason we can consider only acting in drama theatre. When we start talking about theatre we should consider some basic points which are vital to run theatre. They are acting and actors and other elements like time, space, body, mind (or say consciousness) and so on. So this work tries to concentrate on the relationship of these other elements with theatre and how these individual elements help an actor to work on his role. They are as I said above time, space and actor (body). If one goes to perform he certainly needs some space in which he can perform. Without space nothing can be done. It may be a theatre or it may be a free space in a public place. But for theatre, it can utilize any sort of spaces. However, there can be two kinds of spaces. One is private space and second is public space. The very first space we must consider in theatre is the space which is created by human body. Here I quote by Sudhanva Deshpande in Space of theatre and Spaces for theatre which seems very appropriate to quote here. He said: We must consider space as external, since the actors body inhabits a physical space, as much as internal, since the actor creates internal space even to take a breath, let alone walk or move.1 As well actors need some time to perform. There is a claim that theatre uses a special category of time called theatrical time. Every action requires some time. This notion of time is very abstract to understand in theatre as well as other actions of daily life. The reason is because one cannot do anything without consuming the time. One may not directly consume the time but certainly there must be some time factor in every action. That means, every action has some reaction, and that reaction should happen in certain time. If the actor consumes more time then it might be considered error in acting. For this reason he needs to follow certain time using which he needs to react. This is called as theatre time. The third essential requirement for theatre is actor (body). This essay dwells on this point of essentiality of the theatre. The body seems very important to any performance. Without body there will be no communication possible in a performance. Some critics claim that Stanislavski, (the eminent theatre director cum the co-founder of Moscow Art theatre) in his system of acting, doesnt give importance to audience. It is true up to some level, because what Stanislavski said is that the actor shouldnt consider audiences. The reason is if an actor is aware of that the audiences are there in front, then he might get stage fear or any other obstacles. So the fourth wall technique of Stanislavski describes that the audience space should be considered as fourth wall. This is misinterpreted by many critics. So in terms of communication even Stanislavski also suggested that there must be some communication happened between actors and audiences. We shall also discuss the processes of theatre as defined by Constantine Stanislavski. Stanislavski in his major

Sudhanva Deshapande, The Space that Theatre Occupies (paper presented at the seminar on Spaces of Theatre and Spaces for Theatre, Ninsam, Heggodu, March1418, 2012).


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

books talks about how an actor should prepare to perform a character. It is very interesting that there are two major types in acting. They are Stylized and Realistic (or say naturalistic). Stanislavski belongs to Realistic mode of acting. It is interesting because we cannot say anything as real or any acting as realistic. But the theatre uses this concept to label some sort of acting which is performed in natural way. Since the question of realistic acting or the concept of real is very problematic and the intention of this essay is something apart from this, we shall leave this problem and move towards the core. Apart from all these, the core of this thesis is to unpack the possibility of embodiment of a characters soul. So the very questions here I would like to posit are, is it possible to embody the soul of the character? If possible, how it is possible? If not, then how can it be possible for an actor to perform the character? What are the other instructions he should follow? All these fundamental questions need to be answered with certain theories of acting and studying the process of applying those theories. Sometimes all these theories of acting seem dubious because of generalization. My position here is that no one can teach anybody how to act, and the characteristics of good acting. But they can teach the possible processes to demonstrate or indicate the path to good acting. Based on this assumption I would like to move further. So whenever I use theories of acting, readers are requested to understand them just as the processes. Whether it may be Stanislavskys acting theory or any other theories. Furthermore, the embodiment of self itself seems very problematic (even though it is to be negotiated), because one cannot see a character intimately. It means nobody can be with Hamlet or Macbeth, because these characters are not alive. In that case, one may ask how it is possible for an actor to embody these characters. This question requires some other analogies to understand as well as answer them. The fundamental reason for this problem is the ambivalence in the existence of soul or self. Moreover, the difference between self and soul also seems very tricky to solve. Thus due to all of these ambivalences we need some more understandings in the concepts of self and soul. Indian Philosophy seems very flexible towards the notion of self and soul. The reason is because there can be empirical elements in the examples of Indian philosophers. Further these examples are exemplified in such a way that they can be somehow easily understandable by any reader. For that reason I would choose Indian philosophical insights towards self and soul. Notion of Soul and self in Indian philosophy The term soul in Indian philosophy is denoted by the word tman. There are several different types in School of thought in Indian Philosophy. Kaha Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad define self as The light of the Atman, the spirit is invisible, concealed in all beings. It is seen by the seers of the subtle, when their vision is keen a clear The Atman is beyond sound and form, without touch and taste and perfume. It is eternal, unchangeable, and without beginning or end: indeed HMT3

Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

above reasoning. An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Truth. THOU ART THAT.2 Thus, it seems, for this school the notion of self exists and it is immortal. It also doesnt have any beginning and ending. Moreover the self is identical with Brahman and it has highest reality. Well known philosopher Ganeri, on the other hand, in his book The concealed art of the soul talks about the reluctance of the sages to reveal the truth about self. He says The recalcitrant sages of the Upanishads are coy but not covert. They do not, in general, conceal their true beliefs with false words; they are not insincere. Tardiness not trickery is their leading trait, an immense reluctance to spill the beans, a coyness rooted not so much in a self-serving secretiveness or a disinclination to share the knowledge that gives them power, but which exists rather as a response to a deep respect for the power of that knowledge, and a recognition of the need not to be frivolous either with the knowledge itself or with its potential recipients.3 The above excerpt shows us the reluctance of sages to reveal the notion of self. Thus throughout the Indian philosophy we cannot come across a single and authenticated definition of soul which is not contested by other schools. Based on these abstract analyses of self in Indian philosophy the following sections try to understand the notion of self and soul, which are two different entities, and they try to negotiate the embodiment process in theatre or particularly in drama performance. Embodiment process in theatre If we talk about theatre we should limit us to some particular form of theatre. For this reason here I shall consider only the drama performance, in which I shall only consider the acting part. Since we are concentrating on acting part, we should discuss the notion of acting which is defined by the major theatre personality Constantine Stanislavski. His one of major treatises on acting called An Actor prepares is the major text studied here in this section of the essay. Not only I do consider this book but also try to use some arguments from his other books like Building a character and Creating a role if need be. The book An Actor prepares was written in 1936. This book is considered an epic for actors who really want to achieve something in theatre. The book is in dialogue format, so there must be some characters as such. There are some characters like Tortsov, Grisha Gorkov, Paul Shustov, Leo Pushchin, so on. This book seems like class notes of Stanislavski. Anyhow the book starts with the discussion about the performance of

Mascor Juan, The Upanishads. (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1965) 61, 118. Jonardon Ganeri, The Concealed art of soul. (New York: Oxford, 2007) 13.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

Othello done by Stanislavski. Here Stanislavski is directed by Tortsov, the famous director. The reason why I mentioned these characters is because as we go ahead I need to quote some dialogues happened between the actors and Tortsov. And by quoting some of the dialogues we can analyze the notion of embodiment and how this embodiment is possible in theatre. Apart from those dialogues I would like to include some empirical situations which I have encountered at one of the famous theatre institutions of India Ninasam. It seems very important to analyze theory with the help of practical experience. The notion of acting seems very problematic, because it is a kind of work which cannot be taught by anybody. Moreover, as Shakespeare said our life is like a drama and all we are just actors. God is a director. This is true, because in some sense, our life also seems like a drama. What we are actually doing in our life is just enacting our role. This is one kind of complete embodiment of our self. There is no doubt that we are performing our identities, our selves, and our characters really very well. But the problem arises once we enter into the field of theatre, where actors struggle with embodying the characters. K.V. Subbanna, in the introduction to the Kannada translation of the book An Actor prepares, says that acting is a weird kind of communication compared to other formal communications. A sculptor sculpts his feelings by using a rock in the form of idols. The spectator watches the idol and indirectly receives the intention of the sculptor. Here there is no verbal communication. The communication which is possible here is only through the sculpture. An actor is also a communicator who communicates through his body. But his speech, make up, props, set and other theatrical elements cooperate with him in the communication process. But these elements are not enough for real communication. It requires some other element from the actor. That element is inner essentiality. Without inner essentiality an actor cannot perform up to the mark. What is this inner essentiality? How an actor can get it? What are the processes he requires to undergo to achieve that? All these questions are answered by Stanislavski in his book. In one part of the book, Tortsov says: []Yes, because the very best that can happen is to have the actor completely carried away by the play. Then regardless of his own will he lives die part, not noticing how he feels, not thinking about what he does, and it all moves of its own accord, subconsciously and intuitively.[]4 This seems very true, because an actor should live in his character. He should believe that he himself is the character. Only then can he make the audience believe that character. For living in character an actor needs to be completely carried away by the play. In this situation he doesnt bother about what he personally feels. Everything can be moved accordingly by the subconscious. Here one more question may arise in the minds of readers. What is subconscious? What are the functions can be done by this subconscious?

Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood (Trans.), Stanislavskis An Actor prepares. (New York: Routleix5e, 1989) 13.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

Moving on, Stanislavski gives us the answer by pointing out at some vague characteristics about the subconscious. He says, subconscious is that which gives an actor a special kind of inspiration. To develop this further, Stanislavski quotes Salvini (One of the famous tragedians. Full name is Tommasso Salvini). Salvini (1989) argues: The great actor should be full of feeling, and especially he should feel die thing he is portraying. He must feel an emotion not only once or twice while he is studying his part but to a greater or lesser degree every time he plays it, no matter whether it is the first or the thousandth time.5 The difficulty which we may face here is that sub-consciousness cannot be attained. In other words, we cannot control our subconscious. If we can try to attain it or control it, it will surely be via our consciousness. So the problem here is that the accession of subconscious seems very far more from the hands of an actor. However, creativity requires an active participation of subconscious. In order to evoke the subconscious we must just let the subconscious to work itself. We need to continue our work towards attaining that without enforcing ourselves. In other words, if our action cannot get the access to our subconscious then we should force our action to get it. But we should act towards that in a smooth manner. Hence it is tough possible to use our subconscious for our creative works. Even most talented person is also not apart from this. The creativity leads an actor towards embodiment. For embodying a character, Stanislavski defines certain processes in his book. The main requirement that which is other than creativity but which is related to creativity is imagination. An actor must have certain qualities of imagination in order to attain the characters details. First point Stanislavski points out that the characters and the theme are the result of series of imaginations of the author. In a sense there is no reality as such upon the stage and in the script as well. Art is the result of series of imaginative processes. Actors duty is to transform the untruth to theatrical reality. In this process the imagination of an actor plays a paramount role. Tortsov says: [By pointing out some paintings]. Here are some sketches for a non-existent play about life between the planets. To paint such a picture the artist must have not only imagination, but fantasy as well.6 Here the use of the word fantasy distinguishes special kinds of imagination from ordinary kinds of imagination. That means imagination is the process of imagining the existing or possibly existing or might have been existed elements, whereas fantasy is process of imagining the elements which might not be existed and mightnt have been existed. These notions of imagination and fantasy both are needed for an actor to construct his own chart of character. There is no specific mentioning of time, space, and the characteristics of
5 6

Ibid., 13. Ibid., 55.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

characters many times in scripts. But actor needs to imagine them based on his imagination and some related references and from the script as well. Let me describe this process with the help of some empirical examples. Shankar Venkateswaran, one of the famous contemporary directors of India, directed Chekhovs play Seagull to the Ninasam students in Kannada. In that process I worked as a dramaturge. He, during rehearsals, gave many assignments to the students based on text. One of the students asked him what the reason for writing this assignment was, and how we can get the details of the character. As an answer, Shankar told them that the main reason behind the assignment is to know about character. An actor cannot perform the character if he doesnt know even single detains about character like what dress a character might have worn, in which time he/she might have been lived and so on. In order to know that need to imaginatively speculate all those details to embody the character. He continues by saying that an actor should gain all these details by keenly reading the text, because there should be some elements through which some more elements will be attained. So the reading between the lines gives very advantages to the actor. Based in his suggestions students wrote many assignments and they managed to detail the characters in Seagull like Trigorin, Nina, Sorin, Arcadina, and so on. Here in this process, imagination helps the actor to speculate the details regarding characters. Further, Stanislavski defines three types of imagination. First kind of imagination doesnt require any special effort to initiate. It works in both waking and sleeping state of an actor. Second kind of imagination requires some sort of effort from outside initiatives to initiate. Third type of imagination doesnt react to any effort made by the actor. This kind of imagination is very difficult for the actor. He who has this sort of imagination cannot leave his conventional acting. He receives out side initiatives but he cannot react to them. This kind of actor needs special effort to come out of this problem.7 Moreover, the actor should encourage his imagination; he needs to be very playful in his imagination as well. He should not force the imagination. If he does so he will only get mechanical imagination which will lead him to mechanical acting. In case of thinking process also he needs to be creative. This kind of process will help him in attaining the imaginative ideas regarding character. Further the actor should be careful while constructing the imagination. Those constructions should have some realistic base. Stanislavski quotes the description of Tortsov to explain the advantage of imagination. Tortsov says: 'If I ask you a perfectly simple question now, "Is it cold out today?" before you answer, even with a "yes", or "it's not cold", or "I didn't notice", you should, in your imagination, go back on to the street and remember how you walked or rode. You should test your sensations by

Ibid., 57.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

remembering how the people you met were wrapped up, how they turned up their collars, how the mow crunched underfoot, and only then can you answer my question.8 Thus the very advantage of the imaginative process is to help the actor to experience the experiences which may not be corporally experienced by him. However, this imaginative process also enables the actor to think widely within the realm of script and outside of the script as well. By achieving this process of imagination an actor can construct the nearest world of his character and through this construction he can live the characters life. For an actor, keen observation is also as much important as imagination. This book also suggests the actor to develop immense observation. If one is performing the role of some person, that actor needs to observe his characteristics (in case that character is alive) or needs to observe his characteristics in text. He also needs to use some sort of common sense here and there. For this Stanislavski explains an incident which happened in his theatrical experience. Once his director told him to perform a scene in which he is actually counting the bank money at home and his wife calls him. But Stanislavski goes on to meet his wife who is busy with giving bath toher child with a cigarette in his hand. Then Tortsov stopped him and tells him that he needs to observe the situation at that point of time. The reason is because first of all he is doing some responsible work and he cant stop for his wifes call. Secondly nobody goes to see his child holding the cigarette in hand. All these are subjected to the common sense. Tortsov tells his students thatan actor needs to develop some sort of common sense along with imagination and keen observation. While an actor also needs to have faith in what he is doing and also needs to have some sense of truth. Stanislavski defines this notion of faith and sense of truth with the help of some real life incidents that happened at the rehearsal hall. It seems he tries to juxtaposethose real life incidents with the incidents that happen upon the stage. By doing so the result of that comparison reveals the theatrical notion of reality. So to define that definition let us quote from the text. Tortsov led us to the conclusion that there are two kinds of truth and sense of belief in what you are doing. First, there is the one that is created automatically and on the plane of actual fact, and second, there is the scenic type, which is equally truthful but which originates on the plane of imaginative and artistic fiction.9 This quotation seems to define the notion of theatrical reality and two kinds of truth and reality. The actor requires these two types in truth and reality not only to act but also make the audience believe that the theatrical reality comes close to the real reality and through theatrical reality actor needs to communicate emotions and feeling with the audience. If actor himself doesnt believe that theatrical reality is true then he

Ibid., 71. Ibid., 128.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

cannot convey the emotion to the audience. The debate in the book gives some more information about this notion of theatrical reality. For this reason I would like to cite those arguments here. 'Excuse me/ argued Grisha, 'but I don't see how there can be any question of truth in the theatre since everything about it is fictitious, beginning with the very plays of Shakespeare and ending with the paper mach dagger with which Othello stabs himself.' 'Do not worry too much about that dagger being made of cardboard instead of steel/ said Tortsov, in a conciliatory tone. 'You have a perfect right to call it an impostor. But if you go beyond that, and brand all art as a lie, and all life in the theatre as unworthy of faith, then you will have to change your point of view. What counts in the theatre is not the material out of which Othello's dagger is made, be it steel or cardboard, but the inner feeling of the actor who can justify his suicide. What is important is how the actor, a human being, would have acted if the circumstances and conditions which surrounded Othello were real and the dagger with which he stabbed himself were metal.10 This conversation between Tortsov and Grisha helps us to understand notions of theatrical reality even better. This conversation works in such a way that it distinguishes theatrical reality from worldly reality. In the sense that, if a theatre performance uses a paper dagger, it means it is real dagger in theatrical reality, but for worldly reality it is a paper dagger. The main intension of the theatrical reality is to convey certain emotion through artificial properties. It doesnt mean that we should use real cigarette to smoke on stage instead of using some dupe cigarette. The notion of willing suspicion of disbelief which is in the audience intertwines the theatrical reality with worldly reality. Many times theatrical reality doesnt bother about worldly reality. Tortsov further summarizes the above points in following manner: 'What we mean by truth in the theatre is the scenic truth which an actor must make use of in his moments of creativeness. Try always to begin by working from the inside, both on the factual and imaginary parts of a play and its setting. Put life into all the imagined circumstances and actions until you have completely satisfied your sense of truth, and until you have awakened a sense of faith in the reality of your sensations. This process is what we call justification of a part.11 This sense of truth and faith in the theatrical reality helps the actor in keeping him on the right track. However, the question one wants to rise here is how a character is to be constructed using the above elements. Let us sum up that process briefly. The understanding the character is to start with a thorough reading of the script and understanding the condition of the play, circumstances of the play, place, time (in which time it might have been taken place), relationship between the different characters, and certain other
10 11

Ibid., 128-129. Ibid., 129.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

characteristics of the character. Based on all these elements an actor build up his own realm of the character on his own. Here imagination plays a paramount role in construction. This thorough reading of the script furthers the confidence of an actor and thus he will be able to hold the characters archetype. The reason one uses the word archetype will be discussed in coming sections. The assignment given by Shankar to the students included all these processes.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

The following picture shows us the system of Stanislavski about the embodiment of role.
Psycho-physical work on self and character plus analysis of text leads to..


Technical, physical work on self and character

Psychological work on self and character Inner Create State Imagination Units and Objectives Stage Attention Objects Feelings of Faith and Truth Inner Tempo Rhythm Emotion Memory Communication Adaptation Logic and Coherence Stage charm Ethics and Discipline Control and Finish

SUPEROBJECTIVE (Of character and play) External Creative State

Relaxation External Tempo-Rhythm Vocal Technique

Your experience of the character


Diction Language Scenic Movement

Work on the text

Dancing Fencing Acrobatics

Physical + Technical components for creating character


Physical Action Feeling or Emotion Will or Action

Intellect or Thought

Start with work on your own self

Work on Your Self: Conscious work to awaken the unconscious

(Courtesy: Benedettis Stanislavski: An introduction )


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

The above picture is adapted from Benedettis book Stanislavski: An introduction which published on 1994. Almost all the elements in the picture have already been discussed. The structures of the above picture show us the notions of or say interpretation of Stanislavski regarding acting. The system of Stanislavski is itself the process to attain the character. Further Stanislavskys other books like Creating a role and Building a character also deal with the same system with certain examples. Hurdles for embodiment There are many obstacles as well for an actor to embody the character or role. They may be stage fear, consciousness, memory, or lack of imagination whatever. The understanding of these hurdles might help in better understanding of embodiment process. Let us now talk about consciousness and how this consciousness will be treated as a hazardous for embodiment. One can say that the notion of consciousness as either being individual or collective. The individual consciousness is the consciousness which is treated as personal and it restricts to a certain person, whereas the collective consciousness can be defined as the consciousness of society. The conceptual term consciousness can be defined as the state in which a person is more aware of his action. To develop this definition a little bit further, it is the mental state in which the memory works very actively towards the actions done by a person. Moreover, this state can also include the memory of a person towards his own self/identity (let us consider these two terms are same for a moment). Suppose a human being loses his consciousness then he cannot even propagate his memory towards his actions. We can classify this notion of consciousness into two types. One, active consciousness and the other as passive consciousness (This passive consciousness is completely different from sub-consciousness).In active consciousness the person knows that he is very conscious towards his action. But on the other hand, in passive consciousness, he doesnt think of consciousness. However, the point which differentiates the passive consciousness from sub-consciousness is the control over the action. If a person passing the road by talking with his friend via cell phone and suddenly draws him back by presuming a lizard as snake on the road, his sub-consciousness makes him to perceive that lizard as a snake. But he may not have a memory of it later. In passive consciousness, he has the memory of whatever he has done but he doesnt bother about that action or memory. For example, if a person acting on a stage, he passively knows that he is acting, but he doesnt participate with that memory actively. Moreover, if we come to the core of this essay, this active consciousness acts as an obstacle for the embodiment process. Part of the reason is that because, if an actor actively conscious that he is an actor and performing a role of some other person, he may not be able to transform his self to the characters self, because he is aware that he is acting. Once he aware of his self then he may think about his life his family and his joys, sorrows, his friends and all other realities of his life. By doing so he completely rejects entering into the realm of the character. So, acting theoreticians say that if an actor doesnt give up himself he cannot embody the character. To prove this I would like to narrate an incident happened during the British colonial HMT12

Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

period in North Karnataka. By the way this is a rumor, so there is no evidence as such to this incident. But as far as this sections discussion concern we can consider this incident as an instance. In certain place of north Karnataka a show called Sangya Balya was happening. In that play, there is a scene where a character Eerappa kills Sangya. In that performance, because of the old rivalry, the actor who is performing the character Eerappa actually chopped the head of the actor Sangya. Later that performance got stayed by government. So in this example the actor who is performing the character Eerappa, got his consciousness actively, which provokes him his rivalry and eventually, because of his active consciousness, he killed the other actor. In this instance the active consciousness of the actor worked as an obstacle to that actor to embody the self of Eerappa. Moreover, this notion of active consciousness also acts as an enemy to an actor by invoking stage fear in the actor. If an actor is actively conscious about himself he may get stage fear. This is happened many times for me when I went on the stage. It makes me inferior about myself. If I think about myself while talking about certain concepts with others, I get memories of which seem to indicate that I may not be able to talk about this and I am not at all resourceful enough to talk about this concept. So this active consciousness hurdles the flow of my oration. In the same way, for an actor also, these sorts of problems lead him to be fearful in front of the audience. Once he become fearful he cannot embody the characters self, because fear is always individual and it is very personal. Along with consciousness, personal memory also seems nasty component in terms of theatrical embodiment. Part of the reason for this is because both personal memory and consciousness are intertwined together. There is no difference between self and memory in terms of functionality. The reason is because no one can identify his self without the memory. If one has to say that some pen is his pen, he needs to have the memory of that pen which belongs to him. Suppose he doesnt have the memory or he lost his memory in an accident he cannot recognize that as his pen. For this reason it is very much essential to look thoroughly about the notion of memory and its association with self and identity. Memory is the part of brain which helps human being as well as animals to identify the belongingness of things. In a sense that without memory nobody can even recognize the components. Suppose one hasnt ever seen unicorn. Suddenly a unicorn incarnates in front of him. Can he recognize that as a unicorn? He cannot, because he doesnt have the memory of unicorn. He may speculate based on certain descriptions of unicorn. But he cannot recognize it certainly. So the role of memory seems important in constituting the identity as well as self. The acquisition of memory itself has certain sort of identity attached to it. The process of acquisition of memory happens through either listening or seeing. Perhaps it happens also through tactile sensation. If one goes to buy a watch first he sees it. After he buys that and in that moment he has the memory that, this is my watch. Here identity implicitly dwells in the word my. The concept of memory and identity are closely connected. The encyclopedia of Philosophy describes memory as Outside philosophy, interest in memory HMT13

Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

increased massively and disproportionately in the late twentieth century in both the neuro-cognitive sciences and the humanities, driven both by internal developments within disparate disciplines and by wider social and cultural concerns about trauma and recovered memories, about the politics of forgetting and collective responsibility, about memory loss in an aging population, and about the manipulation, control, ownership, and protection of individual memory.12 This encyclopedia also depicts that there are some connections between memory and ownership. Here ownership happens only if one has to identify something as his own. But the typology of memory in human being is completely different from the animals. The reason is because they memorize the objects by smelling the objects. For instance dog recognizes the path by smelling the objects which are being there alongside the path. Even they smell the owner whether he is its owner or not. By doing so, they recall their memory. Since they are not capable of thinking they need to recall the memory through olfactory sensation. But in human beings, they can think. They memorize the past by using thinking and sometimes by using senses. The consciousness, on the other hand, has certain quality of memory in it. It means it requires some sort of memory to be conscious. This notion of consciousness cannot be definable according to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. They say that there is nothing called problem of consciousness as such. But here to understand the process of embodiment we need to know little bit about this concept. For me it seems, this notion of consciousness is an obstacle for the embodiment process. If an actor conscious about himself that he is an actor and he is just performing the role of some others, then the whole process of embodiment gets collapse. Here we can also observer the interconnectivity between consciousness and memory, because we cannot conscious about us without having any memories. This interconnectivity somehow performs some sort of fundamental hurdle to embodiment. So the best actor needs to have the capacity to overcome all these problems irrespective of any other negotiations. If he fails to do so, he will seize in the spider net of acting. He should be able to face the audience, he should be able to embody the character, and he should also be able to come out of the character properly after the performance. If he doesnt know how to come out of the character, he may become insane due to the higher emotions of the characters. This has actually happened many times in the history of the theatre. Not only for the actors but also for the audience there should be the understanding of the way to come out of the mood of the performance. The best example is Susan Mountfort who has literally became insane by watching the character of Ophelia in Hamlet.13 Thus by observing all these we can say that there should be some connections among this embodiment process, memory and consciousness. However here I would also like to discuss the paper, written by Jaren S Hinckley, entitled Performance anxiety: Constantine Stanislavskys concept of public solitude. The paper talks about


Donald M Borchert, Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2nd ed). (USA: Thomson Gale, 2006) 122. H2G2 guide, Last modified September 19, 2012. http://h2g2.com/approved_entry/A51015962.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

Stanislavskys notion of performative anxiety. The problem of performance anxiety causes due to many reasons. One among them is lack of preparations and rehearsal by the performer. It is a major mistake which almost many actors keep on commit. They dont even understand the script properly which makes them not to access the archetype of the character. They dont have any presuppositions regarding character. Also their laziness or lack of interest in the play, many times, takes performers far away from acting. So, all these objects start to kick the performer on stage. Moreover, lack of preparation further causes in forgetting the dialogue, nerves, executing the wrong blocking or missing the cue and so on. Because of all these, a performer would act in a worst manner. However, the space of the performer can also impacts on his/her anxiety. An actor or an actress can perform in private space without any anxiety. The space matters very much according to Stanislavski also. This point of space affecting on his acting is been found by Stanislavski because of an incident. Once he saw that a man dropped nails on the stage and he was gathering the scattered nails. Stanislavski helped him to gather them. While he gathering Stanislavski realized that he never bothered about being on the stage but he bothered only about his work. This helped him to do some experiments with the spotlight to define space and overcome the problem of space.14 Moreover, to overcome the anxiety Stanislavski found a new technique called fourth wall technique.15 This technique claims that the actor should consider audience space as a fourth wall where three walls are around him. If he considers so, he cannot worry about audience. This further contested by many scholars later that Stanislavski neglects the audience. In fact this technique doesnt say that actor should neglect the audience. But he has to consider them as a fourth wall. By applying this technique one can come out of the fear of spectators. Eventually the problem of anxiety leads an actor to come out of the character. He cannot be in character once he caught by the fear of spectator or of anything on stage. Here we have to observe one more point that an actor or an actress has to practice in such a way that he/she has to embody the characters archetype. The reason why I used archetype here is because, it seems, we may not embody the self of the character. Part of the reason is that first we dont even visualize the character until and unless we see that character. Characters like Hamlet or Macbeth cannot be visualized as they were. What we can do is just archetype them based on certain details and the study based on certain facts about them in the scripts or outside the script. Thus based on these details we can imagine our own hypothetical Hamlet or Macbeth. This seems not at all the embodiment of self rather embodiment of archetype of the character.


Jaren S Hinckley, Performance Anxiety: Constantine Stanislavskis concept of Public Solitude. In College Music Symposium Vol 48. (College Music library, 2008) 125. 15 Ibid., 128.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

The problem of anxiety or the stage fear draws an actor back from embodying the characters archetype. Further, it leads the actor to forget his dialogues or make him blank out on the stage or any other problems which end up by giving injustice to the character. Conclusion Thus by considering all these pitfalls and Stanislavskys notion of acting, his system which altogether work in constituting the embodiment of character, as premises of this argument we may draw conclusion. When we observe the system and processes which are defined by Stanislavski seem to have some loop hole. That is, they describe how to intake the characteristics of a character. Somewhere it is said that system is an actual process of an embodiment of characters soul. But here I would like to contest that, is it possible to embody the characters soul without actually encountering face-to-face with character? Moreover, the process says that we have to collect all the information of a character by using our imagination, observation and thorough reading. If an actor does so, can he be able to intake the soul of a character? I think he cannot, because he may be able to intake the characters archetype, but he cannot intake the soul of a character. All these processes just help the actor to create an archetype of the character. If he needs to intake the other identity which is very foreign to him, then he can pretend that he has that identity. Or let me say this may be theatrical embodiment of characters soul, since the reality and identity in theatre are quite different from the worldly reality and worldly identity. Moreover, the book Konstantin Stanislavsky, which is written by Bella Merlin, talks about this notion of embodiment of self. Bella says: For more than ten years, Stanislavsky continued to refine his system, supplementing his practical experiments by delving into books on psychology and philosophy. During this period, the double-pronged training of work on the self and work on the role led Stanislavsky to adjust his definition of what he had previously called personality acting. He had come to believe that actors could only work from their own raw materials if they really wanted to stir their creative wills.16 With the help of this excerpt we can understand that Stanislavski has some ambiguity in his system as well as this notion of embodiment. Otherwise there is no need to refine the system and there is no need to change his ideas. Moreover this notion of personality further costs Stanislavski in changing his notion from creative state to state of I am in 1914. Later in 1924 Stanislavski gives step by step procedure of State of I am in America


Bella Merlin, Konstantin Stanislavski. (London, New York: Routledge, 2003) 24.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

beginning with factual knowledge and ending with heartfelt emotion. The middle part of this process is occupied by the actors quest to search for the right action.17 Since nobody, who talks about Stanislavski, talks about the embodying of soul, it seems they try not to touch this topic, since it is very problematic. For all these reasons the whole study of Stanislavski and his books seems arbitrary in terms of embodiment of characters soul. What they seem to guide is how to create an archetype and how to pretend the character by embodying the archetype of the character. Also there is no doubt that all the books of Stanislavski are very important for a director as well as an actor to understand the partial part of acting. Other part cannot be taught by anybody as I mentioned above. The conclusion one may give based on above sets of arguments is that the process of embodiment in acting possible only up to the extent that the actor can embody the archetype of the character not soul of the character. *******


Ibid., 25.


Self and theatre: Embodiment process in acting

References 1. Benedetti, J. Stanislavski: An Introduction, London: Methuen, 1994.

2. Borchert, Donald M. Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2nd ed). USA: Thomson Gale, 2006. 3. Ganeri, Jonardon. The Concealed art of soul. New York: Oxford, 2007 4. Hapgood, Elizabeth Reynolds (Trans). Stanislavskis An Actor prepares. New York: Routleix5e, 1989. 5. Hinckley, Jaren S. Performance Anxiety: Constantine Stanislavskis concept of Public Solitude. In College Music Symposium Vol 48. College Music library, 2008. 6. H2G2 guide, Last modified September 19, 2012. http://h2g2.com/approved_entry/A51015962. 7. Juan Mascor. The Upanishads. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1965. 8. Merlin, Bella. Konstantin Stanislavski. London, New York: Routledge, 2003. 9. Subbanna, K V, (Trans). Stanislavskys Rangadalli Antharanga (Kan). Heggodu: Akshara Prakashana, 2000. 10. Sudhanva Deshapande, The Space that Theatre Occupies (paper presented at the seminar on Spaces of Theatre and Spaces for Theatre, Ninasam, Heggodu, March 1418, 2012). Accessed by http://theatreforum.in/static/upload/docs/Introduction.pdf.