This sample of comments demonstrates the variety of ideas that actors have about the issue of “belief”. The difference between an actor that marked “5” and that of an actor that marked “2” is quite wide. One says that it would be “insane” to believe while the other says that “you need” to believe. This makes for an interesting starting point in an exploration of the data as it implies that there is a wide separation in how actors might describe their relation to the role they are playing.
The next question to explore how performers relate to the role is #64. This question asks:
64. In terms of your relationship to your character, where do you fall on the scale below:
1 = My body is a neutral puppet operated from a conscious distance. I have no emotional engagement with my character.
5 = Depending on the circumstances, I step in and out of complete emotional engagement with my character.
10 = I have full engagement of emotion with my character. I feel what my character is feeling.
The question was designed to get a further sense of how the respondents view themselves in relation to the role they are performing.
As the graph, right, makes clear, the respondents say that they tend towards engagement with their character with a mere 11.69% of the respondents on the “no emotional engagement” end of the scale. The comments are quite telling. For instance, two respondents that placed themselves as “7” on the scale said:
Because I relate so closely with my characters (by finding what I have in common with them and choosing my actions accordingly) I cannot help but feel an attachment with them. As a result, they become like very real projections of myself, and I find it difficult to keep a distance (not that I would want to... this is a way for me to discover things about myself I didn't necessarily know). (Respondent #492571)
I believe the emotional state is an important part of portraying the character. But I am not able to completely be the character.
While one respondent who chose “3” on the scale said:
i am always aware of what my body is doing. very rarely are the emotions i am portraying what i am actually feeling
A respondent that chose “2” on the scale remarked:
I have little emotional engagement with my character, but I often experience a heightened emotional state before/when/after performing. I wouldn't agree either that my body is a 'neutral puppet', even if many of the exercises that I use to prepare for performance depend on a purely physical exploration. In terms of emotional connection with the character, however, I'm definitely at the low end of the scale. (Respondent #1159693)
Finally, a respondent that chose “5” said:
I can't choose just one end of this spectrum - a relationship with a character has to be at both ends simultaneously. If I have full engagement of emotion, absolutely all the time, then I wouldn't be able to remember lines and blocking, and I wouldn't be able to remember to cheat out and project - and act. So a little part of my brain has to be at a conscious distance, overseeing the decidedly un-neutral puppet of my body as it acts. The best moments are those of complete emotional engagement with my character, when I'm really feeling with her - but even at those moments, the puppetmaster part of my brain reminds me that I need to stay focused and not get too caught up, or too self-congratulatory. (Respondent #457027)
While another said:
I use whatever tool is required at the time to get the story across to the audience. (Respondent #758159)
This scale will become more important as we continue to look at how the respondents describe their relationships to their characters because it reinforces the data from question #51.
Question #64 is itself further supported by the data from question #119. This question came much later in the survey after all of the questions about performance had been asked. It was placed there in order to see if there would be any change in opinion after the respondents had been thinking further about their relation to the role they are playing. In this case, the respondents were asked to choose between three statements:
In performance, which statement best describes your relationship to your character?
1 - I often feel that I shift back and forth between being an actor and being the character, between working as an artist and living a certain situation.
2 - I am at one with the character in a kind of melded personality.
3 - I am not aware of my relationship to the character. I just do my job and act the role.
Based on the responses to question #64, it could be assumed that the first choice would be picked most often since the highest percentage of respondents placed themselves in the middle of the scale. It could be further assumed that based on previous responses, the second choice would come second here as this population tends to place itself on the engaged end of the scale. As the graph, right, demonstrates, these assumptions are warranted as the 16.73% of the respondents that chose the third option is quite close to the percentage of respondents that placed themselves on the non-engaged end of the scale in question #64 (11.81%).
The idea of shifting back and forth between the character and the actor will become more significant as further questions are examined. Here we are seeing an early indication that there might be a perceived separation between the actor and the character and that engagement with this character might be a moment to moment event.
Questions #s 66 and 68 examine the actor/character relation further by asking the actor to define where they think emotions shown on stage are coming from:
66. If your character is supposed to be angry, where does the anger come from? (choose the answer that best applies)
1 - Myself
2 - The Character
3 - The action
4 - The reaction to the circumstances
5 - I don’t know
68. If my character is supposed to be angry, then I will be angry at the moment my character is angry.
1 - Agree
2 - Disagree
With these two questions, we begin to see some interesting data. For #66, the overwhelming response is that the emotion (in this case anger) comes from the reaction to the circumstances, as the table, right, demonstrates.
Only 10.90% of the respondents feel that the anger comes from themselves and even fewer feel that it comes from the character or the action. This is not out of line with the responses to the previous questions. The respondents appear to be saying that while they do tend to engage with their character, it is the circumstances of the scene that create the emotions. Where we see a real divergence is in #68.
Here the divide between actors is evenly split. Nearly half agree and just over half disagree. As noted in statistical analysis, in a semantic differential question like this one, the closer the answers are to an even 50/50 split, the wider the diversity of opinion in a given population.  We can look at this split more closely, in order to see where the diversity lies. We can compare the responses from both questions to see where a respondent that agreed or disagreed with the statement about whether they would be personally angry when the character is angry (question #68), says that anger comes from (question #66). As the relational chart, right, demonstrates, there is nothing in particular that stands out. For the most part, the respondents are evenly split on the issue of whether they will be angry when the character is regardless of where the emotion in the scene is coming from.
The only significant split is between those respondents that say they are angry when the character is and also said that the anger comes from “Myself”. Here we see that 64.70% say that they are angry when the character is angry. As significant as this might seem, it only makes up 6.79% of the total responses. In fact it is only 22 actors in total. So while it might be possible to say that respondents who say that the anger in a scene comes from themselves and they feel it personally, the population that say this in response to this question is far too small to make that kind of conclusion.
Fortunately, there are several more questions that delve into the notion of the actor’s relation to the character and its emotions. Question #s 94, 95 and 96 attempt to get closer to the heart of the matter by asking directly about the actors’ relationship to the character and its emotions.
94. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
"The emotions I portray onstage are not truly felt. They only need to look real."
95. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
"When performing an emotion, it must be truly felt. If my character is angry, then I must be angry."
96. If your character is supposed to be angry, the anger present is...
My own anger.
The character’s anger.
Together, these three questions ought to provide better insight into the relation an actor has to her/his character. It might be presumed that the respondents who disagree with the first statement, stating that the emotion does need to be “truly felt” will agree with the second (“If the character is angry then I will be angry”) and choose the first response in the third (“My own anger”). This would reinforce the idea that actors in this study sample tend more towards an immersion view of acting since the training in the Method or early Stanislavsky would tend to support this (see Hetzler, 2007, chapter 1). This would also tend to be in agreement with the data from question #64 asking about engagement – the higher up the scale the respondent placed him/herself, the more likely that this should be the case. However, the results (see charts, right) show something far more interesting.
It is quite clear that the bulk of the respondents do not feel that it is acceptable for emotions to merely “look real” (68.38%). At the same time, they do not feel that when the character is angry, they too are angry (65.95%). So how can this be? If the anger present is, in the actor’s mind “real”, how can it not be their own personal anger? This is answered by question #96 which shows that the respondents believe that that emotion presented is the character’s and not their own (82.77%). What we discover is that among the actors who responded, there is a distinct separation between the actor and the role they are playing, while at the same time they feel that the emotions called for must be real. This is further supported by examining the cross tabulation comparing question #68 to question #96 seen right.
Here we see that even though there is a near even split between the respondents that say they are angry when the character is angry and those that are not (#68), the two groups overwhelmingly (225 to 47) say that the emotion present is not their own but is the character’s (#96). This seeming contradiction suggests that there is a specific delineation for actors where they can separate the emotions of the character from their own personal emotions.
This notion of separation is brought more into further light when the data from an earlier question is added to the mix. Question #79 asks:
Which of the following choices best describes your relation to your role?
In this case, there is a very definite idea about the relation of the respondent to the role.
In the chart, right, a full 40.00% feel that the character and the actor inform each other while the next highest group feels that they “become” the character (25.17%). This dovetails with the data from question #64 where the respondents placed themselves on the 10 point scale. Whether they describe their relation to the character as being a feedback process of informing each other, or a stepping in and out of engagement (as defined by question #119), it appears that within this population of actors, there is a distinct feeling of separation, as the respondents state that they are aware of both themselves and the character at the same time.
This is further supported by question #110:
How important is it to become your character?
1 - Not at all. I’m always detached from my performance.
2 - Always. I become my character completely.
3 - It depends on the role and production. I can be detached or immersed.
In this instance, we see a reinforcement of question #79 where the majority of respondents said that the actor and character inform each other. As the graph demonstrates the majority of respondents chose “It depends…"
This is not unexpected given that the bulk of the respondents put themselves in the middle of the ten-point scale with a tendency towards the immersion end and said that they shift back and forth. The comments on this question bear this out: