chapter  15
4 Pages

How to use affective memory in preparing a part

After having decided what is the feeling necessary for a certain part of his role, the actor tries to find in his affective memory a recollection similar to that particular feeling. He may use all kinds of means in order to bring that feeling to life, starting with the actual lines of the author and finishing with experiments from his own life, recollections from books and finally using his own imagination. Then by a series of gradual exercises and rehearsals he brings himself into a state, enabling him to arouse in the strongest degree the necessary feeling by a mere thought of it and to retain it for the necessary period of time. For instance, an actor playing Othello comes to the conclusion that a

certain part of his role is filled by the feeling of jealousy. He searches in his so-called “Golden Casket of feelings” for some recollections having to do with jealousy and discovers several of them having to do directly or indirectly with that feeling: for instance having read in a paper a criticism about a very successful performance of one of his colleagues, he experiences a feeling of acute envy, similar to that of jealousy. This feeling brought him into a mood expressed by excessive irritation and exaggerated amiableness toward his colleague. Then, he remembers, that once his wife has received a letter addressed in a strange handwriting. For some reason she did not tell him its contents while he, on the other hand did not want to question her about it. This has aroused in him quite a number of new feelings: watching the behavior of his wife, the inner struggle between the desire to find out the contents of the letter by reading it while she was away and a feeling of respect towards her that wouldn’t allow him to do so. Another case, – when arriving to the theatre he found his seat occu-

pied by another person and how, being certain that it belonged to him he was claiming it and defending his right to it. Sometimes the mere recollection of a feeling enables the actor to live it

all over again and, as in the above mentioned case, his heart begins to

his colleague. In feeling by continuous repetition of that recollection, until it will become near and familiar to the point of getting hold of him at any moment according to his order. But sometimes the mere recollection would not be sufficient and the

actor has to arouse his affective memory by purely physical means as for instance the sight of his wife reading anything at all, would bring to him the feeling he experienced while she was reading that mysterious message. Sometimes, though, the actor has to use purely his imagination. As in

this case – a persistent thought of a lost article he was fond of, might supply him with the necessary feeling. In other words – this work consists in finding and developing of

necessary feelings but not in their outer reproduction. We may call this work, the actor’s “home-work” – the preparation of

the pallete and its supplying with necessary colours. – He must not think during this work how he is going to reproduce a

certain feeling, – his only concern should be to find it, to sense it with his entire being, to get used to it and to let nature itself find forms for its expression. The next period of the actor’s work is when after having discovered

and developed in himself the necessary feeling he starts to apply them to the lines supplied by the author. This is one of the most beautiful moments of our work. If until then the actor, who has collected all the familiar colours

of jealousy and developed them to the point of making them near and vivid, did not dare to touch the Shakespearean text, – he can begin to do it now. Aroused to the heights of exaltation, in full possession of all the

shadings of his new feeling the actor begins to pronounce in the solitude of his workroom the immortal words of the author. Timidly to start with, as though not daring to touch them he begins to

invest them with new forms, prompted not by the rules of elocution but by the great creative mind of the author in complete union with his own creative spirit. By this time the actor knows perfectly his part, and the words come to

him easily as though prompted by feelings. He never touches the words without being aroused and moved by feelings. He never reads or repeats his role, he actually lives it. If the actor succeeds to find the right feeling at once the author

inflames him still more by the force of his talent and the actor begins

actor took at first a his “golden casket.” But a real artist should not be afraid of that work – it has so many

creative possibilities which, according to human nature, are the real source of joy, that he can not help but feel happy while doing it. If the author has expressed his feeling in the right way, the actor

can not change or add a single word to it, their feelings have to be in harmony and their hearts must beat in the same tempo. – If this does not take place, the director’s business is to discover it and to correct either one or the other, according to whose feeling is more valuable. In his search for the affective feelings the actor sometimes can not find

in his “golden casket” the right one. Actors often say: “How do I know the sensations of a murderer”? or

“how do I know what Salome felt holding the head of John the Baptist – I never had a severed head in my hands –” In such cases one has to use very extensively the “similar” affective

memories and the imagination. Similar affective memories help us a great deal if we analyze thor-

oughly and in details the necessary feeling and try to understand its nature. Here is a rather simple example of such an affective memory: Cleopatra before her death takes in her hand the deadly asp and it

should be very important for the audience to feel that the Queen has in her hands a real snake instead of a piece of overstuffed canvas. But where from can the actress get such an affective memory if she never had and probably never will have in her hands a poisonous snake? Certainly only through a similar affective memory! Everyone of you probably remembers how you were shaking from a

little bug or a caterpillar crawling along your neck. This recollection has the same foundation as has the feeling experienced by Cleopatra holding the asp. The actor has, probably, never killed anyone, true, – but has he never

killed a mosquito with the same ire that most likely is the embryo of the feeling experienced by Hamlet killing his uncle. Has he never seen a chicken killed? The actor has not the right to be superficial or inattentive so to say of

the events of his own life or to the life surrounding him, but has to penetrate into the deep meaning of everything that happens in front of him and store every one of his new emotions in his “golden casket” of feelings.