An Enactive Approach to Understanding Acting

Zarrilli, Phillip B., 1947Theatre Journal, Volume 59, Number 4, December 2007, pp. 635-647 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/tj.2008.0002

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” the “inner” experience of what the actor does—often called emotion or feeling—and the relationship between the actor and spectator.” Monumenta Nipponica 37. or sequence of actions as in some performance art). 3  See. These specific cultural assumptions and paradigms of the body. and experience are often unarticulated. 1  Phillip B. Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor’s Attunement in Practice (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. “Kakyo: Zeami’s Fundamental Principles of Acting Part Two. He has developed an approach to training actors through psychophysical methods based on Asian martial arts and yoga. their relationship. Mark Nearman provides a detailed exegesis of the underlying psychophysical principles such as qi/ki (creative energy) and onkan (vibratory feeling) informing Zeami’s treatises. Zarrilli is professor of performance practice in the drama department of Exeter University (UK). see also Jonathan Pitches. 2  Joseph Roach. 2006). I argued that “[e]very time an actor performs. The Body: Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory (Albany: SUNY Press. the nature of the “self. Mark Nearman. The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting. 3 (1982): 333–74. 1987). Zarrilli Introduction: “Theories” of Acting In Acting (Re)Considered. in particular. their relationship. Recent historical and ethnographic scholarship has begun to articulate the scientific and/or medical paradigms that have helped shaped specific theories and practices of acting. where he directs the MA/MFA program in theatre practice. no. he or she implicitly enacts a ‘theory’ of acting—a set of assumptions about the conventions and style which guide his or her performance. see also Yasuo Yuasa. The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Acting (Re)Considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide (London: Routledge. Intercultural Approach. On Zeami. and Shelley Fenno Quinn.3 My own detailed ethnographic studies of Phillip B. “Kakyo: Zeami’s Fundamental Principles of Acting.”1 Informing any “theory” of acting is a historically and culturally variable set of assumptions about the body. no. which is the subject of his forthcoming book. Joseph Roach’s seminal historical study. the structure of actions which he or she performs. 2002). no.2 In a series of translations. mind. mind.” Monumenta Nipponica 37. 1 (1983): 49–70. “Kakyo: Zeami’s Fundamental Principles of Acting Part Three. provides in-depth analysis of the scientific/medical assumptions informing historically specific theories of Western acting. Science and the Stanislavsky Tradition of Acting (London: Routledge. and the relationship to the audience. The Psychophysical Actor at Work: A Post-Stanislavskian. 2005). 1993).An Enactive Approach to Understanding Acting Phillip B. Theatre Journal 59 (2007) 635–647 © 2008 by The Johns Hopkins University Press .” Monumenta Nipponica 38. role. 3. Zarrilli. the shape that those actions take (as a character.. ed. 4 (1982): 459–96.

Craig. . the élan vital or the enlivening quality of the (actor’s) breath/energy. 8  This alternative meaning of psyche is akin to the Greek psychein. Zarrilli. and Discourses of Power in Kalarippayattu (New Delhi: Oxford University Press. and When the Body Becomes All Eyes: Paradigms. In his recent book The Purpose of Playing: Modern Acting Theories in Perspective. 3. Performance as cultural exchange: playing one’s otherness. among others—in order to “enable the reader to grasp the dialectical relationship between major traditions of performance. “psycho” does not mark the recent Western invention of psychologies of the self/individual as in the compound “psychological. Barba. Gordon’s sixth category incorporates the intercultural work of Eugenio Barba. Grotowski. The Invention of the Psychological (New Haven. Boal. Zarrilli India’s kathakali dance-drama and the closely related martial art kalarippayattu provide a detailed account of how yogic and Ayurvedic paradigms inform embodiment in these traditions..” and therefore comes very close to the “inner” experience marked by the Sanskrit term prana (or prana-vayu) and the Chinese qi (the Korean and Japanese ki)—breath. Robert Gordon identifies “six major approaches” to contemporary Western acting in the new millennium: 1. 5  Robert Gordon.” Each practitioner/theorist “proposes a different solution” (ibid. .8 However important psychology has been to shaping the dramaturgy 4  See especially Phillip B. CT: Yale University Press. see Joel Pfister and Nancy Schnog. .”6 An additional seventh category might be added to Gordon’s taxonomy: performance as psychophysiological process. eds. Artaud. or vital energy. The Purpose of Playing: Modern Acting Theories in Perspective (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. . Meyerhold. the embodiment and shaping of “energy. which draws extensively on non-Western principles and dynamics. Saint-Denis. . The actor as scenographic instrument: performance as artifice . Practices. Michael Chekhov. Much of Gordon’s discussion includes the “psychophysical” as defined here.636  /  Phillip B. 5. 6  Ibid.”7 but rather refers to another meaning of the Greek psyche: the vital principle—namely. 2006). Copeau. Brook. . Brecht. 2) to the underlying phenomenon of cultivation toward expressive form.4 Both traditional and contemporary practices of acting and their attendant theories are invented and sustained to actualize (one or more) aesthetic form(s) within a specific context. Exploration of self and the other: acting as personal encounter . . . 2000). Realistic approaches to characterization: psychological truth . 5.” Here.” Gordon discusses many of the major theorist/ practitioners of twentieth-century Western theatre—Stanislavsky. 4. Studio-based discourses are developed to provide shortcuts and/or cues into a process of actualizing a particular mode of embodiment or inhabitation of action within an aesthetic form. . Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play (London: Routledge. life force.. Improvisation and games: theatre-making as play .. meaning “to breathe. . Gordon argues that the beginning place for “all theories of acting” is the fact that “the actor’s body must always be cultivated as an instrument capable of varied and subtle expressive forms. 1998). blow. 7  On the historical “invention” of psychology. 6. 2. 1997). 6. Performance as political praxis: acting as rehearsal for change . Strasberg. but without specific reference to non-Western genres/practices/theories of acting per se. .5 Using this “taxonomy of categories. Spolin.

The Psychophyscial Actor at Work: A Post-Stanislavskian. Meyerhold on Theatre (New York: Hill and Wang. a central story/plot or character(s)/subjectivity(ies) no longer forms the center of the theatrical event. Stanislavsky in Focus (Amsterdam: Harwood.” Theatre Survey 47. psychology and modes of conventional representation were inadequate for the breadth of demands faced by his actors. “The Life of the Human Spirit: Stanislavsky’s Eastern Self. there is “almost no action—just waiting.12 Taking into consideration perspectives drawn from 9  I argue at length in my forthcoming book. In “post-dramatic forms of theatre. 1999).11 Meta-theoretical questions about acting are also raised by the diverse range of postdramatic. if historically limited and not always successful.10 Later manifestations of a psychophysiological approach to embodiment and energy in action are seen in the varied approaches of Michael Chekhov. 1998). practice. 3. Stanislavsky “realized that a new acting technique was necessary but his own experiments at home in front of a mirror. Post-Dramatic Theatre (New York: Routledge. no. nonrealist forms of new drama of his period such as the highly static plays of the Belgian symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck. 19. and “Stanislavski Uncensored and Unabridged. Artaud. 152. and slow recognition of inevitable death” (see Fuchs. Grotowski. innovative use of the compound term “psychophysical” (psikhofizicheskii).” Teatr: Russian Theatre Past and Present 1 (2000): 3–14. Andrew White.” 12  Hans-Thies Lehmann. Edward Braun argues that the production was considered “a failure” to the point that “Stanislavski was forced to concede the inadequacy of conventional representational methods when faced with the mystical abstractions of the ‘new drama’”. 1969). In 1904.9 A psychophysiological approach through embodiment and the shaping of “energy” is an extension of Stanislavsky’s early. alternative scripted and devised dramaturgies/performances produced since the 1970s where. and my own use of Asian martial arts and yoga in training actors. he attempted to solve the acting problems in alternative. “The Creative Circle: Stanislavski and Yoga.AN ENACTIVE APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING ACTING  /  637 of realist and naturalist plays from the late nineteenth through the twentieth centuries. William H. proved unsuccessful”. 1996]. 26–27.” TDR 37. see Sharon Carnicke. mounting anxiety. see Braun. 1 (2006): 73–92. that is. 1 (1976): 85–89. and R. but also on the limited versions of Indian yoga available to Stanislavsky in turn-of-the-century Russia. according to Elinor Fuchs. Barba. the nature. Stanislavsky’s staged three short Maeterlinck plays. Acting (Re)Considered. and part 1. 1 (1993): 22–37. For example. “Stanislavsky and Ramacharaka: The Influence of Yoga and Turn-of-theCentury Occultism on The System. no. Intercultural Approach (London: Routledge). see Benedetti. including The Blind. Stanislavski: His Life and Art (London: Methuen. filtered through then-popular occultism and spiritualism. Wegner. Paralleling the use of this term in the new sciences of the period. it is inappropriate or inadequate to the realization of the dramaturgy and acting tasks that constitute an actor’s performance score in many postdramatic texts/performances or in non-Western performance. 2006). “Theories of and Meditations on Acting. principles or perspectives that invite us to step back from. Stanislavsky’s use of it was an innovative. 11  See Zarrilli. . 96). For Stanislavsky himself. a play in which. He drew not only on the psychology of Theodule Armand Ribot (1838–1916). 10  On Stanislavsky and yoga. staged text (if text is staged) is merely a component with equal rights in a gestic. both vocal and physical.” Educational Theatre Journal 28. attempt to problem-solve the relationship between the “psycho” (inner) and the “physical” elements of acting. as Hans-Thies Lehmann explains. that the “psychological” is no longer—if it ever was—a paradigm with sufficient explanatory and/or practical power and flexibility to inform fully the complexities of the work of the contemporary actor. and phenomenon of acting. According to Jean Benedetti. Meta-theoretical Questions and Approaches to Acting Implicit in each specific theory of acting are meta-theoretical questions. no. The Death of Character [Bloomington: Indiana University Press. and to reflect more generally on.

but rather as a dynamic.. in 2000 with performances of Ohio Impromptu.638  /  Phillip B. 18).13 Acting should not be viewed as embodying a representation of a role or character. but also that of the spectator. 1). plus Eh Joe. Boyette and I made a commitment to a long-term mutual exploration of Beckett’s plays in performance that has continued to the present. etc. cognitive science. total composition” (ibid. 15  Samuel Beckett. do. as well as the tasks of the performers (ibid. 1984). and a major residency at the Granary Theatre (Cork.”15 Open before Reader on the table is a “worn volume” and a single wide-brimmed black hat. For a complete account of The Beckett Project and work on Ohio Impromptu. I begin with a phenomenological description of acting the role of Reader in a production of Samuel Beckett’s postdramatic text.14 In the subsequent section of the essay I elaborate in detail how an enactive approach to understanding acting views the actor as a skilled practitioner—a sentient being able to be. . 14  The practical and intellectual challenges an actor faces when confronted with the iterative ambiguity of Beckett’s stripped-down later plays initially captured my attention in the early 1990s and have preoccupied me ever since. 13  A complete phenomenology of performance would articulate not only the phenomenology of the actor’s perception and experience. Not I. The original set of four plays was on tour in the US again in 2006. A short UK tour followed in 2001. Act Without Words I. Footfalls. They are seated as mirror images at a 4’ x 8’ white table with “head[s] bowed propped on right hands[s]. visual. Zarrilli a convergence of “new/er” sciences might allow us to reconsider acting meta-theoretically as a phenomenon rather than a representation. an enactive view provides an account of acting from the perspective of the actor as enactor/doer from “inside” the process. respond. 285. (To whom does the hat belong? Is it shared?) The faces of the two figures cannot be musical. The Collected Shorter Plays (New York: Grove Press. Known as “The Beckett Project. and anthropological ecology. and Play. The implications of this view of acting/performance for specific theories of actor training/practice are briefly explored in a concluding discussion. Since post-dramatic texts and performances are not necessarily organized around a plot or recognizable individual characters. 46. Following this year of work. Drawing on recent developments in phenomenology. emphasis in original). Ireland) resulted in performances of two complete evenings—our original four plays. two figures (Reader and Listener) are identically dressed in long black coats with long white hair (fig. Ohio Impromptu. and imagine in (theatrical) environments. Zarrilli. and Rockaby. Ohio Impromptu was written in 1980 and premiered in 1981. see Phillip B. Future performances are being planned for 2009. Performing Reader in Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu: A Phenomenological Description In Samuel Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu. this essay explores an enactive approach to a meta-theoretical understanding of acting as a phenomenon. The Psychophysical Actor at Work.” our first evening of four plays premiered at the Grove Theatre. In contrast to representational and/or mimetic meta-theories of acting that construct their views of action from a position as an outside observer to the process/phenomenon of acting. lived experience in which the actor is responsive to the demands of the particular moment within a specific (theatrical) environment. a variety of alternative “aesthetic logic(s)” inform the structure and type of action. Los Angeles.. Madison during 1994–95. I began a nine-month exploration of the application of psychophysical training to Beckett’s later plays—a project that included a prerehearsal residency with Billie Whitelaw organized and facilitated by Karen Ryker and Patricia Boyette. The account is constructed from my perspective as an actor inside the performance while on tour in the United States with The Beckett Project. While director of the Asian-Experimental Theatre Program at the University of Wisconsin.

Phillip Zarrilli (Reader) and Andy Crook (Listener) in Ohio Impromptu. This action takes place at a glacially slow pace. 287.. the two figures sit “motionless” throughout most of the performance “as though turned to stone. Tonight is the first of eight performances of The Beckett Project on tour. Listener listens to the story. We have just received our five-minute call for Ohio Impromptu. 2006.AN ENACTIVE APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING ACTING  /  639 Figure 1. without the intonation or typical vocal contours that identifies the voice as belonging to a particular individual.”16 Ohio Impromptu is almost noh-like in its sparseness and stillness. When the reading of the story is complete and the book has been closed. Andy Crook (Listener) and I (Reader) leave our dressing room. seen. This is clearly a postdramatic text. The actors’ performance scores are quite simple. Reader reads the text. As Reader reads the story in the book open before him. These two (identical?) figures are illuminated against a black void. The Gilbert Hemsley Theatre (Madison. or when he wishes the reading of the narrative to continue. The physical actions constituting the actors’ scores are minimal. September 15. but does so. after a final knock Reader and Listener gradually raise their heads to look into each other’s eyes for the first time. . and they cannot see each other. Listener knocks on the resonant wooden table when he wishes Reader to stop and repeat a phrase. Wisconsin).   Photo: Brent Nicastro. without color—that is. according to Beckett. mirror images 16  Ibid.

filling my body. . associations momentarily present themselves to me at the periphery of my consciousness/ awareness. . inhabiting with that breath this space-time between us. sensing the touch of the page of the book on the table with my left hand. . I sense the heat of the lengthy lighting cue as its warmth begins to touch my hands and as the brightness of the light hits the table and illuminates the text before me. ? . My awareness simultaneously takes in the audience . Keeping my primary attention on my in-breath and out-breath. My sensory awareness and attention are not singular. . sensing its synchronization with Andy’s. sensing the feel of the chair against my thighs and buttocks. I am aware of it. Following up on our earlier vocal warm-up. Following my breath. or perhaps we have arrived over a month early for Madison’s infamous Halloween street party? Entering the theatre. I follow my in-breath as it slowly drops in and down to my lower abdomen. I “sound” the text by seeing if I “hit” the chest resonator at the correct pitch on the opening line. The audience further settles. ha. and the audience. With my external focus directed outward through the theatre. . As I read the opening line. . I check my placement on the chair. anyone encountering us backstage as we walk down the short corridor into the theatre would find us laughable—are we a pair of daft “Goths” who have wandered in off the street. The doors are opened. I am perched on the edge of speech. . ha.” I sense the act of articulation of the “t” and “tt”s in the line as my tongue hits the back of my teeth. . my mother’s . Now. Their sound passes through me. Patricia makes any final adjustments to this nearly still-life image we will inhabit for fifteen to seventeen minutes. and as Listener he is to my left. As each of our right hands frames our foreheads. Our awareness is open to each other. Since we have not yet taken our places within the specific onstage environment Beckett envisaged for Ohio Impromptu. I place the palm of my right hand on my sternum and repeat a set of strong. I let my awareness open through the soles of my feet—sensing their relationship to the floor. . Andy and I settle into our chairs. . . . waking up my mouth. Usually there is a sense of an impending end . I arrange and rearrange my long black coat so that it is not caught up beneath me. . . my imagination is also open. and that the audience has indeed fully settled and the last cough has been coughed. In the final few moments before the house is open and the audience enters. . black trousers.” We take our seats at the 4’ x 8’ white table. “Little is left to tell . . the end of this particular reading of the story—there is only one page left to turn in this book . but not distracted by it. resonant sound of knuckles hitting the surface of the table stops my reading. Andy and I settle into our identical physical positions under the watchful eye of our acting colleague.” I double-check the precise placement of the book on the table before me. my own . and settle. In a last attempt . sensing the potential words in my mouth. check with the house manager about how much time we have until they want to open the doors and let the audience enter. . Patricia Boyette. .640  /  Phillip B. . resonant vocal pulses—”ha. “Two minutes. out through the top of my head toward the back of the theatre. and long white wigs. and the touch of the weight of my forehead against my thumb and first two fingers. we are breathing together . Zarrilli of one another in our long-black coats. “Three minutes. she ensures that from the audience’s perspective we do indeed look identical. when I sense the lighting cue is at its full warmth and intensity.” The sharp. I begin my final personal preparations. as one. They begin to sit. and behind me. Listening for his breath. My attention shifts to my breath. but multiple—taking in my breathing as it begins to synchronize with Andy’s. the first line of the text unexpectedly comes out of my mouth “riding” a breath on a pitch with little color but that nevertheless resonates in my sternum: “Little is left to tell . . ha”—in a pitch that vibrates my sternum. chatting as they enter. . We are “ready. I open my awareness further beyond Andy to the periphery. and out . reaching toward the back row of the space and the rustling presences there. I open my auditory awareness to Andy about three feet to my left. are like a wall of energy and sound moving into the space. in . and sensing the relationship between my lower abdomen and the soles of my feet. . I follow my breath.” Patricia gives the house manager the all clear. . we double-check the placement of our straight-backed white chairs. . . Just as my sensory/perceptual awareness is open. . As Reader I am situated to Andy’s right. the end of a life—my father’s . . lowering a knuckle of a finger for one of us and ensuring a wisp of hair is not loose. my voice “sounds” both my body and the space.

perceptual being to the very specific (theatrical) environment that constitutes the mise-en-scene of Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu during its opening moments. I am using “acting” to refer to the work of the stage actor. The reader should be alert to the two uses of the term “acting” in the discussion that follows. Both the earlier fourfold model of the actor’s experience and this essay are based on a post–Merleau-Ponty phenomenology. by following philosopher Alva Nöe I have tried to provide a description that “catch[es] experience in the act of making the world available. Precisely when does his knock with the knuckles of his left hand stop my reading of the text? Ideally. and imagining as living human organisms in the moment to each other and to the environment. of course. “Little is left to tell. arguably.20 When Merleau-Ponty shifted philosophical examination from its preoccupaAlva Nöe. we “act” in the world. and redressed the critical disappearance of the (lived) body and embodiment in the creation of meaning and experience within the theatrical event: see Bert O. In the philosophical discussion that follows. Great Reckon17  18  . The word or part of a word that is interrupted differs every night. precisely what my imagination will conjure in response to that first line. perceiving. As Reader.” sensing. it is.” I began to address the problem and question of how to provide an account appropriate to the complexities of the actor’s experience from inside the process of acting. one of the most appropriate methodologies to utilize when considering acting. I never know. This essay expands upon my earlier argument by conceiving the phenomenon of acting as enactive at a meta-theoretical level. Although any such account can never completely describe or represent acting in all its complexities. Whatever the flaws and problems of phenomenology. 20  Previous phenomenological studies of the theatre have contributed much to our understanding of the theatrical event. 2004).” I do not know. By being perceptually responsive to Andy’s actual presence in this environment. “Toward a Phenomenological Model of the Actor’s Embodied Modes of Experience.19 I did so by elaborating a model of the four closely related “bodies” the actor negotiates during performance. as human beings. is how as a stage actor I simultaneously inhabit. The more generic use of “acting” includes within it. Andy Crook and I are not abstract constructs.AN ENACTIVE APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING ACTING  /  641 What I have just described. “acting” is used more generically with reference to how. 19  Phillip B. Action in Perception (Cambridge. act within. acting may be (meta-theoretically) defined as “enactive”: a psychophysiological process by means of which a (theatrical) world is made available at the moment of its appearance/experience for both the actors and audience. stage acting. MA: MIT Press. 176. as best I can. the actions I initiate—reading the text. since it does not begin with performance as the object of inquiry. Zarrilli. but rather specific persons “acting. In the title for this section. However pedestrian it may be.”17 Toward an Enactive Paradigm of Acting18 In a recent essay titled “Toward a Phenomenological Model of the Actor’s Embodied Modes of Experience. the above description of “acting” in Ohio Impromptu is intended to provide some idea of just how complex the embodied phenomenon and experience of acting is at the moment it happens. and respond as a sentient. my reading is stopped by his knock as/when it happens in each performance. States. In this view. but foregrounds the “lived” embodied experience of the practitioner as central to its project.” Theatre Journal 56 (2004): 653–66. turning a page. closing the book—and my responses to stimuli—my reading of the first line or Andy’s “knock”—are specific to the play’s dramaturgy as actualized in this theatre on this day.

87. In his seminal 1979 book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Zarrilli tion with the “I think” of the mind to the “I can” of the body. then. NY: Cornell University Press. then. could serve as a guide to subsequent action. was conceived as a kind of ings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theatre (Ithaca. 1994). but also as a basis for how we linguistically conceptualize our relationship to the world has been argued at length in the co-authored studies of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Francisco Varela and his associates have argued for viewing experience and its relationship to cognition as processual—a view that challenges a static. which assumed that we constructed representations of the world around us in our brains/heads. treat perception and action as constitutively interdependent. perception. MA: MIT Press. . To Perform: Drama and the Phenomenology of Action (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. in turn. The enactive approach takes seriously. As Maximilian de Gaynesford explains: On this old view. 2002). Bodies Spaces: Phenomenology and Performance in Contemporary Drama (Ithaca. and Stanton Garner.24 One of the first to challenge the “old” view of perception and to argue for perception and action as interdependent was psychologist James Gibson. essentialist. information which is then given structure by various cognitive processes and fed into the motor cortex to produce action.23 Western philosophy has long viewed perception and action as distinct. Bruce Wilshire. ideally gains the ability to inhabit a particular world of the “I can.642  /  Phillip B. The mind.” in The Philosophy of the Body. and Eleanor Rosch. 1971). 1994). J. Alice Rayner. 2003). behavioural and philosophical reasons. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Cambridge. and experience from the actor’s perspective “inside” training and performance. This view seems erroneous for numerous neurophysiological. the philosophical critique of the idea that the mind is a mirror of nature. representational model: We propose as a name the term enactive to emphasize the growing conviction that cognition is not the representation of a pregiven world by a pregiven mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind on the basis of a history of the variety of actions that a being in the world performs. Evan Thompson. NY: Cornell University Press. “Corporeal Objects and the Interdependence of Perception and Action. pressure on the skin. What differentiates both my 2004 essay and this current account from earlier studies is my focus on the “livedness” of the actor’s modes of embodiment. 21  Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The constitutive nature of embodied experience in shaping not only our experience. 23  For a general discussion of the philosophical problem of perception. 1964). he laid the philosophical foundation for a more processual account of how our relationship to the worlds we inhabit is constituted by our intersensory and intersubjective engagement with those worlds. and Philosophy in the Flesh (New York: Basic Books. The Primacy of Perception (Evanston. To Do. 19. 1991). sound. the mind receives sensory information from its environment. Gibson challenged the commonplace view among psychologists at the time. Perception (Chesham. 1982). 24  Maximilian de Gaynesford. To Act. instead.22 Implicit in Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the body as an “I can” is a theory of perception. 1980). Anthropological ecologist Tim Ingold explains how psychologists in the 1960s and 1970s assumed that the mind got to work on the raw material of experience. like other skilled practitioners. see Barry Maund. 1999). MA: Blackwell Publishers. Role Playing and Identity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. UK: Acumen Publishing.” Among a number of recent scholars. ed. consisting of sensations of light. and so on. We should. Mike Proudfoot (Malden. 22  Francisco Varela. 21–39.21 The actor. IL: Northwestern University Press. organizing it into an internal model which.

we gain perceptual content by active inquiry and exploration. 4–5. of growth or development.. Perception is not something that happens to us. and cognitive science to further develop an enactive approach to perception and perceptual experience. mind. it is not “inside the head” rather than “out there” in the world. and culture. The Perception of the Environment (New York: Routledge Press. 19–20 (emphasis in original). it is immanent in the network of sensory pathways that are set up by virtue of the perceiver’s immersion in his or her environment. He rejected the notion first developed by Descartes that the mind is a separate organ that operates on the data the bodily senses provide. 30  Ibid. the “whole-organism-in-its-environment” is not a bounded entity.. then. . 25  26  . the content of our perceptual experience is acquired through bodily skills that we come to possess. 29  Ingold. the detailed world is not given to consciousness all at once in the way detail is contained in a picture. Ibid. To the contrary. It is something we do . He draws on the earlier work of Gibson.”28 Perception is active and relational. Ingold takes an “ecological approach to perception” in which the sentient. 28  Ibid. but rather as a singular locus of creative growth within a continually unfolding field of relationships. that is. 3. as in touch. but of the organism as a whole in its environment.25 Gibson took a radically different approach. and is tantamount to the organism’s own exploratory movement through the world. 27  Nöe. A “relational view of the organism” conceives of the human being “not as a composite entity made up of separable but complementary parts.”27 If perception is not something that unfolds in the brain. neither is it like the sense of sight that makes it seem as if we are passive to the world.”32 Indeed. . “What we perceive is determined by what we do (or what we Tim Ingold.AN ENACTIVE APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING ACTING  /  643 data-processing device.”31 This process of growth or development consists of the acquisition of perceptual “skills. or in us. . akin to a digital computer. The Perception of the Environment.”30 For Ingold. 5. phenomenology. the world makes itself available to the perceiver through physical movement and interaction. 32  Ibid. 3. Nöe’s thesis is that “perceiving is a way of acting. Paralleling Nöe’s perspective.26 Nöe is among the most prominent proponents of this new view of the interdependence of perception and action.. the notion of “skills” incorporates. In vision.. is not the achievement of a mind in a body. perceptual “skills” are “the capabilities of action and perception of the whole organic being (indissolubly mind and body) situated in a richly structured environment. 1. 33. 2000). and the problem for the psychologist was to figure out how it worked. but rather is constituted by an ongoing “process in real time: a process. 3. If mind is anywhere. In particular. but should not be reduced to bodily based skills. Nöe argues that perception is like the sense of touch: “[T]he content of perception is not like the content of a picture. perceiving person is considered an organism like other organisms. .” For Ingold. such as body.29 He invites us to consider what happens when we think of ourselves as a “living thing” existing in relation to one or more environments. Action in Perception. rather.. 31  Ibid. Gibson argued that [p]erception .

. 2.. that is.. “spatial properties present themselves to us as ‘permanent possibilities of movement. but rather is constituted by our use or exercise of sensorimotor knowledge. 33  34  . rather. 33 (emphasis added). 36  Ibid. 41  Ibid.’”41 At the more complex level of non-ordinary modes of skillful embodied practice. 37  Ibid.644  /  Phillip B. 38  Ibid. [W]e enact our perceptual experience.38 Genuine perceptual experience does not just depend on the type and quality of stimulation we receive. we act it out.”37 For the actor/doer as a sentient perceiver onstage. .. 39  Ibid. Perceptual experience acquires content thanks to the perceiver’s skillful activity. The shape and feel of a practice are not derived from or intrinsic to the sensations per se. and thought. Whether in the domain of vision or in touch... 12. 1 (emphasis in original). action is output from mind to world. not theoretical or propositional knowledge. textually based acting where the actor analyses and scores a script (input).”39 Perceptual knowledge is therefore practical knowledge. we “understand” that the sensations we experience are constitutive in some way.”36 Therefore. one gains a “practical grasp of the way sensory stimulation varies as the perceiver moves. it is determined by what we are ready to do. or to receive sensory impressions. Action in Perception. At the simplest level. perception should not be reduced to merely having subjective feelings. This is a form of practice. Nöe discusses two main types of understanding. for example.”33 The enactive approach is therefore counterintuitive in that it rejects the overly simplistic view of an input and output model where “perception is input from the world to mind. 3.. . thought is the mediating process.”40 We develop a battery or repertoire of sensorimotor skills and ways of being attentive that are the foundation for our perceptual encounter with the world. but rather are gained from what becomes an implicit sensory. to grasp our spatial relationship to things. although there is no sharp distinction to be made between them: sensorimotor understanding and conceptual understanding. “For mere sensory stimulation to constitute perceptual experience—for it to have genuine world-presenting content—the perceiver must possess and make use of sensorimotor knowledge.. . possessing sensorimotor knowledge allows us. there is an ever-subtler shape or feel that is intrinsic to specific bodily based activities such as the practice of martial arts or yoga or when performing a well-rehearsed performance score. Ibid. 99. [and] all perception is intrinsically thoughtful. to perceive “is not merely to have sensations. Over time. it is to have sensations that one understands. 35  Ibid. is intrinsically active. Rather than this “computer” model of perception and the mind. “all perception . 10 (emphasis in original). 40  Ibid. and then acts the score (output). Zarrilli know how to do. Perception occurs when we experience sensations sufficiently that make a certain sort of “sense” to us. perception is “a kind of skillful activity on the part of the animal as a whole.”35 Nöe and Ingold both argue that it is impossible to divorce perception. Nöe. namely. one knows how. 3. action. .”34 This overly simplistic input–output model is too often assumed in conventional.

and in the fact that I do in fact have this access. 135. As Nöe explains. As one continues to repeat a particular form or structure over time. Ideally.”45 Ibid. Ibid. when we perceive. one’s relationship to each individual repetition of that same form or structure is “similar” yet “different..” I make adjustments in the moment to the shape and feel of each action in the moment as necessary. . the score constitutes a form of embodied. one is attuned to an ever-subtler experience of one’s relationship to that structure: “Experience is always of a field. and you can never comprehend the whole field in a single act of consciousness. . . but not as givens.. sensorimotor knowledge for the actor. you not only directly perceive a tree. as potentialities.AN ENACTIVE APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING ACTING  /  645 embodied knowledge of the organization and structure of sensation-in-action. in the present moment of doing. . 67. my kinesthetic knowledge of the score consists of the “feel” of my body in the chair as Reader. “we perceive in an idiom of possibility for movement. “the shape is made available thanks to the way in which your sensations covary or would co-vary with actual or possible movements. the “content” of this (past) perceptual experience is virtually present to me. As one learns to inhabit a form or structure of action. From my perspective as the actor playing Reader in Ohio Impromptu. as for Ohio Impromptu. one is able to “improvise” within this larger field of possibilities for movement/action. The structure/form is available as a horizon of possibilities. rather.”43 When one initiates doing a form of movement or enacting an acting score. the “feel” of the fingers of my left hand as they touch the pages of the old book before me. but out of view. 105. 42  43  . 44  Ibid. “Little is left to tell. . with structure. My experience of all that detail consists in my knowing that I have access to it all. 15.” These forms of perceptual knowledge are not “present” somewhere in my brain. “as available. The Implications of an Enactive View of Acting for “Acting” Whenever we construct an acting score during rehearsals.. in other words. Something always remains present. both the pattern and optimal quality of one’s relationship to the repetition of each form constitutes a form of sensorimotor knowledge. The “form” or structure of the acting score is available for inhabitation at the moment we initiate entry into embodying/expressing each action in the score.  .”44 Therefore. one does not “think about” the form/structure or draw upon some mental “representation” of it.”42 As one learns a specific form of movement. or the “feel” of the words in the mouth when reading the opening line. Nöe explains how “I experience the world as present even when the detail is hidden from view. experience is a process of engaging the dynamic possibilities of the particular form or structure as it happens. the actor. a larger “field” of experience accumulates as an expanding “field” of possibilities. Expanding on Gibson’s ecological approach to visual perception noted above.” Optimally. but rather. Qualities are available in experience as possibilities.. one enters a certain relationship with the form/structure through one’s cultivated perceptual/sensory awareness. but you directly perceive something up which you can climb”. 45  Ibid. Nöe argues that for an animal to perceive within any specific environment is to perceive the affordances offered by that environment: “When you see a tree.

the ability to apply one’s energy/awareness to multiple performance structures or dramaturgies. An actor’s performance score is a structure that is available to the actor as a certain range of possibilities based on the aesthetic logic of a particular dramaturgy. this practical mastery constitutes what Nöe labels “perceptual content” that is “available to experience.”48 Perception therefore becomes “a way of thinking about the world because it is ‘directed toward’ and therefore about the world. however. Over time. The attunement of the actor’s perceptual awareness should ideally provide a heightened. 48  Ibid. 189 (emphasis in original). This type of preparation must take place on two levels: the preparation of the actor’s perceptual awareness necessary for any/all performance environments.”50 If we consider the actor as a “gestalt”—a human animal inhabiting a specific performance environment such as Andy and me as Listener and Reader in Ohio Impromptu—then the training that actors undertake should provide them with a practical.. Apprenticeship is on-the-job training that leads to the practical acquisition of embodied knowledge. the forms also exist with a second set of affordances—those for application. but as a set of accessible possibilities for realization or actualization. there is a gradual symbiotic development or “perceptual attunement between animal and environment. Because of this attunement.646  /  Phillip B. 49  Ibid. Zarrilli Such affordances are specific to a particular animal within a particular environment and are also skill-relative. non-ordinary ability to inhabit one’s body-mind and remain sensorially and perceptually alert in the moment to the acting tasks at hand within a specific score. we enter into a relationship. The details of this score are not present to our experience as a representation. 47  Nöe. Action in Perception. 21 (emphasis in original). The actor engaged in certain forms of training builds a repertoire of sensorimotor skills that afford various possibilities of action within the theatrical environment. thought and experience are not (dualistically) separate domains. our experience of specific practices such as the skilled playing of a sport or acting acquires content regarding the possibilities for action.. but rather continuous.46 There is the potential affordance available within forms of training per se as these forms generate a particular kind of awareness or raise one’s energy. . namely. As one gains practical mastery of a particular sensory modality and awareness. We bring the sensorimotor knowledge accumulated in training and rehearsal to bear on the actual experience 46  The process of knowledge acquisition described here with regard to training also applies to the “how to” knowledge acquired as an acting apprentice in cultural contexts where there is no formal training process.”47 Here. the perceiver is always active within an environment. experiential means of attuning their perceptual awareness so that they are able to be immediately responsive and sensitive to the performance environment shaped by a particular dramaturgy. . As Gibson first argued.. 183–84. . ) are directly sensitive to the features of the world that afford the animal opportunities for action.”49 In the act of perception. 50  Ibid. animals (as embodied wholes . The sensorimotor skills one develops are themselves “cognitively basic” or “proto-conceptual. 119. and the preparation of the actor’s perceptual awareness specific to a particular performance environment shaped by a variety of specific dramaturgies and performance scores.

it implies an “energetic theatre”—a “theatre not of meaning but of ‘forces. . 197. 37. According to this alternative paradigm or “meta-theory. see also Patrice Pavis. human perception is enactive. How the actor is trained to become “animal-like” is specifically explored in Zarrilli. Acting according to an enactive paradigm is not in the first instance about meaning or representation. no.” Performance Research 5. but rather from the perspective of the actor-as-(human) doer/enactor inside the performance of an acting score. acting per se is not primarily about psychology or behavior. 2003). Analyzing Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ready “to leap and act. present affects. relational. see also Phillip B. I have considered a meta-theory of acting not in terms of how the actor constructs a character or how the actor makes a performance believable. 2 (2000): 41–54. the actor practically negotiates “interior” and “exterior” via perception-in-action in response to an environment. Stage acting may therefore productively be considered as one among many extra-daily skilled modes of embodied practice requiring the performer to develop a heightened attunement of sensory and perceptual awareness in order to be fully responsive to theatrical environments and dramaturgies. In this view. A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology (London: Routledge. 1991). The Psychophysical Actor at Work. and specific to an environment. Post-Dramatic Theatre. intensities. “Embodying the Lion’s ‘Fury’: Ambivalent Animals. In the moment of enactment.AN ENACTIVE APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING ACTING  /  647 of enacting the score. Activation and Representation. rather.’”51 Meaning and representation may present themselves to the viewer or critic of a performance. 52  Eugenio Barba and Nicola Savarese. but they are the result of the actor’s immediate energetic engagement in the act of performance and the spectator’s experience of that performance. Although psychology may inform the construction of particular actions the actor inhabits according to the needs of a particular dramaturgy-in-action. 95ff. Zarrilli. quoted in Lehmann. we are utilizing our perceptual and sensory experience and cumulative embodied knowledge as skilled exploration in the moment of the specific theatrical “world” or environment created during the rehearsal process.”52 51  Jean-François Lyotard. Conclusion To summarize my argument. In this view.” it may be more useful to consider acting in terms of its dynamic “energetics” than in terms of representation. the actor-as-perceiver ideally undergoes training that allows one to become like an animal.

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