Many people have guided me in the development of a brain-based perspective on acting. They have freely given their time and knowledge for the sole purpose of helping actors become more effective and more efficient in their craft. Following are just a few of the people that have enabled me to pursue new ideas and some of the projects that have emerged from their generosity and contributions.
The real collaboration started with the Science of Acting class taught in 2017. Check out the video to the left.
Michael Yassa is the Director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at University of California, Irvine. He is also the Director of UCI Brain, an academic initiative he spearheaded that includes a theme entitled, The Artistic Brain. He is prolific researcher, continually cited in the media, continually published in scientific publications. In 2017, while designing The Science of Acting class for The Claire Trevor School of the Arts, I approached him to guest lecture. Not only did he personally volunteer, he reached out to his peers and provided the participation of some incredible researchers. To date, we have worked together on: The Science of Acting, Why our brains love story, Immersion for Artists, and he co-taught a lecture for playwrights, The Brain Science of Writing that resulted in the first neuroscientifically designed one act play.
He is one of the most supportive and generous individuals I have ever met. And I am lucky to call him friend.
I consider him the father of Learning and Memory. He created the very first Department of Neuroscience in the world. Google him and you will get 298,000 results. Cited as the fifth most influential living neuroscientist, this man is a whale in contemporary neuroscience. I feel fortunate that he returns my emails, invites me into his office, and makes time to answer my basic questions. He is patient and generous and fortunately for us, he began his college career as a drama major. Feel free to check out his incredible insights into a brain-based approach to acting in James Mcgaugh's initial guest lecture in the Science of Acting class, or the Artistic Brain outreach presentation, Four Memories Every Character Needs.
Paul Zak is the Founding Director for the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies (how the brain makes decisions) at Claremont Graduate School. He is a well-known author, speaker and scientist. His research has taken him from the Pentagon to Fortune 50 boardrooms to the rain forest of Papua New Guinea. I reached out to Paul in 2019 while researching methods to quantify behavior for a proposal to build The Actor's Lab. Paul has designed a method to measure Immersion, which is a combination of emotional resonance and neurological attention. After briefly describing the methods we use in our brain-based approach to acting, Paul, who is wonderfully enthusiastic about innovation granted me use of his incredible technology in order to gather data for several projects. We first used Immersion's technology in an independent study. The results of Immersion for Artists were presented at the kick off event for The Artistic Brain. Paul also sponsored a study to compare neurological responses to reading the script and viewing the video performance of Soles, which is the one-act play created for the Why our brains love story series. Recently Immersion's technology was used to gather data comparing different acting approaches with the students of Cal Poly Pomona's Advanced Acting course in the Winter of 2020. Because Immersion's technology works remotely, we were able to provide the students with an outstanding at-home learning experience during the pandemic.
Paul continues to help me develop new brain-based methods for film & television writers, playwrights, and producers who want to streamline the development process while implementing audience engagement testing into the creative process.
I think about acting every day.
I have an MFA in Acting, and I trained to teach the Meisner Approach, completing the entire training progression three times. Like most actors, I have also studied the works of Stanislavski, Michael Chekov, Michael Shurtleff, Uta Hagen, and Lee Strasberg. And of course, I have studied multiple movement and voice techniques.
What drove me to look outside of conventional actor's training was quite simple. I noticed recurring patterns. In every conventional acting class I have ever attended or taught, there were always students who were confused and unable to achieve competency with the material. It is common for actors to flourish during one stage of the training and find themselves stuck during another.
I came to believe it is not the student's intelligence or 'talent' that was lacking. And it was not the dedication, passion or competence of the teacher that was lacking.
I believe the material taught in conventional actor's training is lacking; in clarity, and in some ways correctness.
So I turned to science to see if we could improve actor training. The result is a brain-based approach that teaches actors accurate information about their natural behavioral mechanisms, and a tangible set of steps to embody any role.
I find my students very much appreciate precise concrete instructions.