To conclude, the statistics taken together with the comments and interviews demonstrate that for this population of respondents there is a very clear distinction between the actor and the character. The respondents repeatedly describe a complete separation between the two. This might be best illuminated by David Coral who says that when he is on stage, “that’s not me”, but when he comes off the stage, he is no longer that person. What Ruffini called a “duality” might be better defined as a dialogue. The actor and the character interact with each other in a kind of exchange that allows one to inform the other. It is a clear split, but one that is bridged by a two-way line of communication.
When it comes to emotion, the actors are quite clear that they are feeling the emotions of the scene, but they attribute that feeling to the character. This allows them to stay in control. This is quite interesting because Hornby claims that this notion has been dispelled by twentieth-century psychology. He says that there is no “ghost in the machine” and that “actors rarely describe their experiences that way” (Hornby 1992: 117), that is, that they have some kind of internal controller watching over the performance. His idea is that actors are “imagining” the emotions because to feel the emotions as a “real” reaction to the circumstances would mean they could not stay in control of the performance. Konijn tested this idea when she concluded that actors use what she termed the “task emotion”. The “imagined” emotions the actor uses are not as strong or intense as “real” emotions and therefore the task emotion fills in the gap between the imagined emotion and the level of intensity needed for the scene. However, as this study is primarily interested in what actors say in describing performance, we must take a step back from these theories. The participants in this study are quite clear when they say that they are feeling what the character is feeling. But they say that the emotional responses they experience are real, which means that, for them, the emotions are real. Current models of emotion suggest that there is nothing odd about this. Dr. Susana Bloch, a Chilean neurologist, has demonstrated that if someone physicalizes the outward appearance of an emotional state, they will, in turn, begin to feel that emotion. This lead to her work on what she terms Alba Emoting where an actor can learn to utilize identifiable physiological patterns to develop emotions in performance with instant accessibility without reliance on personal memories or images. (Cf. Rix, 2001) It is a kind of physical version of affective memory. Interestingly, as Eckman has shown, if the actor’s physiological response is measured when inducing these “imagined” emotional states, it is indistinguishable from that same emotional state experienced “for real”. (Cf. Eckman and Friesen, 1975) Therefore, even though there might be the aesthetic distance of an “imagined” emotion the actor’s experience of that emotion is the same as if it were “real” in an everyday sense.
This is unsurprising. The actors in this study make it quite clear that they are experiencing emotions similar to the everyday as they are brought about for their character in the moment. This is a key point. The actor is playing a character that is in a certain set of circumstances dictated by the action. When the actor allows him/herself to react to those circumstances as the character would (imagining it), then the emotions the audience sees arising from those circumstances are “real”. There is no dichotomy regarding Hornby’s notion of “imagined” versus “real”. When the respondents were asked if the emotions were similar or different from those experienced everyday they were unable to definitively answer one way or the other. This is because the situation is real for the character so the emotion is “real” even though the actor has the aesthetic distance of the “imaginary”. They attribute the emotions being felt to the character rather than to their own personal selves. As Letitia Lange described above, it is the character’s emotion but she is the character so she is feeling it, but it is not her own emotion so she (Letitia the actor) can let go of it. Of course, despite all of this, the actors in this study do not see emotion as paramount to their work. It is a by-product. Far more important to the respondents is their awareness of the world of the performance – being in the moment.
The described split between actor and character is, it appears, a necessary one in the opinions of the respondents. The actors in this population are very much aware that they are onstage and must constantly monitor what is going on around them. While performing the actions of the play, they are also keeping track of the blocking, the props, the audience and the other actors. To do this, they must be aware on many different levels, what might be called a “dual consciousness”, which allows them to be engaged in the circumstances of the play while still being aware of what is going on outside that action – which is to say, there is a necessity for some kind of separation in order for the actor to be successful in performance.
The Survey of the Actor's Experience