The next couple of weeks we will be looking at the Stanislavsky technique ‘Emotion Memory’ also known as ‘Emotion recall’. We have already covered some of his techniques; Objectives, Given circumstances, The Magic If, Sense recall. The Stanislavsky System is known as ‘method acting’ and is an intense character development process that strives to make a performance “real” and not artificial. In order to achieve this realism, the system is used to:

  1. Bring an actor’s experiences into the role.
  2. Expand an actor’s imagination.

Emotional Memory requires that an actor recreate an event from the distant past in order to regenerate the feelings they experienced at that time. These feelings that have been regenerated are then used in the current acting situation in order to play the role with “human depth and personal involvement”.

Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski

Stanislavski believed that the quality of the actor’s performance depended upon the sincerity of his experience. This sincere experience went through a “time filter” that transformed the quality of the experience into a “poetic reflection of life’s experience”. On stage the actor lived, not a real life, but a true stage experience. This is really important, as we don’t want to explore emotional situations which we have not yet come to terms with/dealt with. This is not a therapy session. Explain how this technique can be intense and should only be used on emotions/memories that the student can handle. Lee Strasberg recommended that the actor use memories that are at least seven years old, to avoid risking psychological trauma.

The stage emotion is not the same as emotion in life. As Stanislavski put it, on stage it is a repeated experience, as opposed to a primary one. The actor can stir the needed emotion in him/herself by remembering a real life situation which provoked a similar emotion. This emotion would then need to be brought out at the exact moment when called for on stage.

The aim of Emotional Memory is to feel the emotion your character is going through, but you might not even need a real memory – just an exceptional sense of empathy. Something you saw or read about might evoke your character’s emotion better than the script. For example; if your character is feeling outraged because someone got a promotion over them, you might not relate. However, you might feel similarly outraged when you remember that since being fired from Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson has become the highest- paid TV host in Britain.

Although this situation does not directly affect you, it can still cause a deep sense of indignation. This is enough. So long as you feel the emotion of your character – no matter how you get to it – you are enacting the Stanislavsky system.

Acting challenge

Sit quietly and go through a memory that triggers a particular emotion such as happiness, fear, sadness etc. Relieve the memory playing it in your mind. Take note of how you feel.

Write down anything/ everything that comes into your head. It doesn’t have to make sense. Using the emotion that you have just explored, create a monologue and film yourself and upload it to the group or attend a virtual class and perform it there.

Mindset challenge

  • Do you have a fixed mindset?
  • Do you struggle to receive feedback and go on the defensive?
  • Are you scared of failure?
  • Do you focus too much on obstacles instead of solutions?
  • Does your inner critic constantly put you down?
  • How can you change your fixed mindset to become more positive and to help you grow as an actor?