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Edwin Arthur Creely B.Ed., Grad.Dip.Drama Ed., M.Ed


A thesis to fulfill the requirements

Of the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


Centre for Theatre
and Performance

Faculty of Arts

Monash University

Clayton, Victoria, Australia

, 2011


Table of Contents


Statement of originality



of Illustrations
……………………………………………………………….viii, ix

Chapter 1

Introduction to the study

Section 1.1


Section 1.2


Section 1.3


Section 1.4

larities……………………………………………………….12, 13

Section 1.5


Chapter 2


Section 2.1

Introduction………………………………………………………....21, 22

Section 2.2


Section 2.2.1


Section 2.2.2


Section 2.2.3


Section 2.3

Auxiliary factors

Section 2.3.1


Section 2.3.2

Temporality and time……………………………………….45

Section 2.3.3

Space and place…………

Section 2.4

Other influences

Section 2.4.1


Section 2.4.2


Section 2.4.3


Section 2.4.4



Section 2.5

Summary of claims………………………………………………...82

Chapter 3

Research Methodology

Section 3.1


Section 3.2

An ethno
phenomenological approach……………………………85, 86

Section 3.2.1

n 1: Phenomenology………………………………86

Section 3.2.2

Tradition 2: Ethnography………………………………….91, 92

Section 3.2.3

Conceiving the approach…………………………………..92

Section 3.3

Developing research tools…………………………………………95

Section 3.3.1

structured Interviews………………………………97

Section 3.3.2

duction of texts……………………………………...104

Section 3.3.3

The Journal……………………………………………..107, 108

Section 3.3.4

Field observations………………………………………108, 109

Section 3.4

Approach to textual analysis……………………………………109

Section 3.5

Conclusion about method………………………

Chapter 4


Section 4.1


Section 4.2


Section 4.3


Section 4.4


Section 4.5

e lenses, one phenomenon………………………………...153, 154

Chapter 5

Examining Data: Actors

Section 5.1

Introduction……………………………………………………155, 156

Section 5.2

McGee and Bongiovanni………………………………………156

Section 5.3


Section 5.4



Chapter 6

Examining Data: Actors post

Section 6.1


Section 6.2


Section 6.3


Section 6

Tonkin and McInnes………………………………………...234

Chapter 7

Evaluations and conclusions

Section 7.1


Section 7.2

Evaluation of the method of this study……………………..253

Section 7.3

Evaluation of claims………………………………………..25
6, 257

Section 7.3.1

Performance………………………………………..257, 258

Section 7.3.2

nce (Internality)…………………………….258

Section 7.3.3

Presence (Externality)……………………………...262, 263

Section 7.3.4

Time and temporality………………………………263, 264

Section 7.3.5

Space and pl

Section 7.3.6


Section 7.3.7

Life frame…………………………………………..

Section 7.3.8

Artistic filters……………………………………….269, 270

Section 7.3.9

Continuum of trai
ning methods…………………......270, 271

n 7.4

and recommendations…………………………271

Section 7.5

A personal note………………………………………………......274




structured interview (actors)……………………………..…...311


Journal entry
(actors)...……………………………………..………314, 315


structured interview (actor educators).……………………… 316, 317



This thesis contains an ethno
phenomenological study of actors’ experiences of performing in
theatre. The methodology of the investigation was
developed from the traditions of
phenomenology and ethnography, with particular attention given to phenomenological
reduction as espoused by Husserl. There are two distinct threads of inquiry that are
juxtaposed with each other in order to understand actor
s’ experiences and the contingencies
that accompany such experiences. First, there is a ‘wide’ examination of factors that impinge
on or foster experience for actors. Second, there is a ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’ examination of the
performance experiences themsel
ves, gathered from a small selection of actors. Both threads,
while different in approach, are complementary and are necessarily positioned together. The
study also examines the sedimentation that undergirds such experiences, including actor
training, with

‘sedimentation’ conceived to be a set of accumulated memories and practices
embodied in an actor that are often linked to training.

The research is structured around a set of claims related to actors’ experiences within the
context of performance in thea
tre productions, claims which have accumulated abductively
from the researcher’s theatre praxis and reading of the research literature. These claims are
tested against the testimonies of actors gathered through transcripts of interviews and written
s from a small selection of case studies. In order to assess the extent of influence of
training on how actors experience performance, actors are grouped in the study according to
whether they are in training programs or post
training. Further comparison i
s made through
reference to interviews with actor educators, especially in regard to actors deemed to be in

In order to analyse and evaluate textual materials, selected aspects of the philosophical ideas
of Merleau
Ponty, Levinas and Whitehead a
re deployed to provide distinct lenses on
experience. Merleau
Ponty is utilised to focus discussion on embodiment, Levinas to draw
attention to relational aspects of experience and Whitehead to suggest the nature of creative
constitution as it is linked to

experience. Moreover, a set of discrete ontological categories is
introduced to enable labelling and categorizing of experience. Throughout the thesis, concept
maps are used to represent phenomena and depict the ontological characteristics of
phenomena. T
he study concludes that the experiences of actors during performing within
theatre contexts are more diverse and complex than is often believed, and suggests that such
experiences play a greater role in the constitution of performance than is commonly thou
In addition, it is likely that sedimentation plays a critical role in the constitution of experience
for actors. Among a number of recommendations for further research, it is suggested that the
internality of actors in performance needs greater consid


Statement of originality

This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for the award of any other degree or
diploma in any university or other institution. To the best of my knowledge the thesis
contains no material previously

published or written by another person, except where due
reference is made in the text, notes and bibliography of this thesis. All material in this thesis
is original and my own work, except as acknowledged in the text.

Edwin Arthur Creely


, 2011



No work of this complexity would be possible without the assistance and advice of many
people. My greatest thanks goes to the actors and actor educators who gave up their time and
ed up their experiences for me. Without their willingness to speak so wholeheartedly
about these experiences and to share ideas, this project would not have been possible. In
particular, I wish to thank Professor Phillip Zarrilli for his generosity in shar
ing his approach
to actors and giving me access to his workshops and students. I also want to thank Christine
Miller, who so faithfully transcribed extensive interviews, and Malcolm Joseph for his
meticulous proofreading. Finally, the sustained support, ad
vice and critical friendship of my
two supervisors, Professor Peter Snow and Dr. William Peterson, have been inestimable in
the success of this research project.


List of Illustrations

Illustration 1.1

Thesis outline

Illustration 2.1

Ontological elements of experience

Illustration 2.2


Illustration 2.3

An ontology of presence

Illustration 2.4

The layered nature of time

Illustration 2.5

Qualities of temporality in performance

Illustration 2.6

Space and place

Illustration 2

The negotiated spaces of performance

Illustration 2.8

Sedimentation, event and experience

Illustration 2.9

An actor’s self and performance

Illustration 2.1


Life frame of an actor

Illustration 2.11 Continuums of training method




Illustration 3.2

Conceiving an ethno
phenomenological approach

Illustration 3.3

Interview styles

Illustration 3.4

Phenomenological reductions in interview transcript production

Illustration 3.5

Process of textual analysis

Illustration 3.6

Content coding categories for actors’ experiences

Illustration 4.1

Schema of Merleau
Ponty’s notion of embodiment

Illustration 4.2

Levinas and performance

Illustration 4.3

Whitehead and phenomenology

Illustration 4.4

Interpretive Len

Illustration 5.1

A phenomenology of the experiences of McGee and Bongiovanni

Illustration 5.2

A phenomenology of Hardie’s experiences of performing

Illustration 5.3

A phenomenology of the experiences of Lai

Illustration 6.1

A phenomenology of Houghton’s experiences of
The Pitch


Illustration 6.2

A phenomenology of the experiences of Williams

Illustration 6.3

A phenomenology of the experiences of Tonkin/McInnes in

Copyright Notices

Notice 1

Under the Copyright Act 1968,

this thesis must be used only under the normal conditions of scholarly fair
dealing. In particular no results or conclusions should be extracted from it, nor should it be copied or closely
paraphrased in whole or in part without the written consent of the

author. Proper written acknowledgement
should be made for any assistance obtained from this thesis.

Notice 2

I certify that I have made all reasonable efforts to secure copyright permissions for third
party content included
in this thesis and have not
knowingly added copyright content to my work without the owner's permission.



Introduction to the study

Section 1.1


I begin this academic journey towards understanding actors’ experiences of performing and
the factors that shape performance with an anecdote from my own experience as a theatre
maker. In 1995, I was directing a secondary school product
ion as part of my role as a drama
teacher. The genre of the production was a spoof of a spy thriller. The talented young cast
showed particular flair in developing their characters and constructing a narrative with energy
and imagination. We had what could

be best described as a near perfect rehearsal process.
Nothing had gone wrong. All the lines were memorised and the cast was ready two weeks out
from the performance of the show. The opening night was characterised by nerves but other
than some initial pr
show jitters the performance was well received by the audience and
appeared to be, from all accounts, well executed. One of the key elements in the plot of this
spy thriller spoof was a painting that was meant to fall down in the last act of the play and

reveal the secret of who was behind the evil plot to overthrow the world. On the opening
night the painting fell on cue and no one guessed what was about to follow in the next
performance. On the following evening the play began as strongly and as confide
ntly as the
first. However, approximately ten minutes into the opening act, the painting fell, revealing
the details of the perpetrator of the plot and thus unravelling the story that was supposed to
unfold over the next ninety minutes. Sitting in the audi
ence, I was astonished by the
malfunction and quite prepared to stop the show and start again, even if it meant a loss of

However, the two leading actors, one male and one female, took the misfortune in hand and
began to improvise and reinvent the n
arrative, without even a pause or a drop of their eyes.
They spoke to the audience (in an external monologue) explaining that the secret was
revealed and then seamlessly began to reconstruct the play as narrators and characters to fit
the falling of the pa
inting. The narrative was repositioned as flashback, and the scenes were
imagined around improvised narration. The other actors quickly understood what
happened and followed the lead of the two actors. What was presented to the audience was a

play that was cleverer and more interesting than the original.

Audience members were unaware of the dire mistake that had happened and of the
inexplicable work of the two lead actors. Ironically, I even received a compliment from an


audience member about

the quality of the script writing for what was an original play.

At the time I wondered what had caused the two young actors to take control, and I was also
curious about the thoughts and feelings that the two actors experienced during their two hours
extraordinary improvised reconstruction. Their intimate knowledge of the script, together
with the nuances of meaning contained therein, was certainly one factor in their rewriting
run. But there had to be more to it than that. On questioning the pa
ir after the event, they
simply stated that ‘it had to be done’ and ‘it seemed the natural thing to do’. They said that
they imagined the play differently and once the initial improvised monologue was delivered
they couldn’t stop the momentum of what was u
nfolding. They became part of something
larger than themselves. Since that event I have taken a particular interest in, and often
speculated about, the experiences of actors and what factors impinge on the way they think
and feel in performance. I have als
o wondered what would be the results if there were a
formal study of what these two actors did on stage during that performance. It is a
phenomenon that has kindled my interest in actors’ experiences since that time.

What is evident in this anecdote is it
s suggestion of complex internality. By internality I mean
a complex state of consciousness, suffused with awarenesses, feelings, perceptions,
cognitions and somatic experiences. I contend that internality is an essential aspect of the
constitution of both

acting and performance phenomena. In other words there appears to be a
diverse and complex set of awarenesses and cognitive states that operated quite significantly
within the immediacy of performing to enable the transmogrification that I witnessed. I ha
worked with actors who have responded to the serendipity of performance with some
remarkable improvisations and interpretations, ones that they never repeated in subsequent
performances and for which they cannot give a rational explanation. I have also
seen the
development of actors across a season of performances, and in their adaptations and actions
they too have implied a complex internality that evolved around their character and declared
the growing awareness of the imaginative world of the characte
r. In my view, a significant
part of this transformation concerns the visceral quality of acting and performance,
juxtaposed with affective states, and the intuitive ‘body knowledge’ that emerges in the
immediacy of performance. However, such ontological c
ategories, these parcels or realms of
experience, appear difficult to define and hard to articulate. From the perspective of an
observer, there can only ever be supposition about what actually constitutes internality.

Part of a systematic attempt to unders
tand experience and explore internality must surely be


to ask actors themselves what it is that they have experienced during performance
. In this
study actors’ narratives about experiences of performing thus have primacy in my attempt to
comprehend their internalities.

Informed significantly by my reading of the research literature and grounded in my
hypotheses about the disposition of wh
at actors experience drawn from the platform of
praxis, I made expansive notes in my research journal. I also created concept maps and
theorised extensively within the early stages of conducting formal research with actor
participants through research tool
s such as interviews and participant journals. It became
clear that my conjectural notions about performance phenomena and actor experiences should
be tested and their credibility ascertained by assessing the extent to which they are cogent in
g actors’ lived experiences and actors’ recollections of theatre events in which
they participated.

In sum, this study involves two territories: first, my initial conceptualizations about actors,
their experiences and the context of theatrical performance
, and second, the actual
experiences of actors in performance as recorded in interviews and journals. The study is a
journey through both territories: an exploration of self as a researcher attempting to traverse
the difficult territory of experience, and

my attempt to understand the experiences of a
diverse range of actors whose narratives and reflections have directed this journey. In other
words, my subjectivity as researcher is submerged within descriptions and explanations of
phenomena which I attemp
t to understand.

Section 1.2


As indicated in Section 1.1, this research is motivated by my grounded professional interest
in the performer and performance and the accumulated evidence of the feelings, strategies
and bodily experiences of actors. R
eference in this chapter to my practice in theatre provides
a platform for the research, especially accounting for my beliefs about actors and the set of
assumptions about what constitutes their experience of performing. Inevitably, a researcher
brings to
research a body of accumulated knowledge, hunches, anecdotes and conceptual


Throughout this thesis, t
he terms ‘while performing’ or ‘during performance’, and sometimes ‘in performing’
or ‘in performance’, are employed. Since the focus is on experience and on the actions of actors, the preferred
term is ‘performing’. The terms ‘while’ and ‘during’ suggest
temporality, whilst the preposition ‘in’ implies
position or location. These terms are used somewhat interchangeably to suggest experiences of an event that has
occurred at a location and during a circumscribed frame of time.


frameworks that are integral to forming the research questions and focus. In this study
what is

to the research as ideational ground is essential for framing
what is found

in the
research proper. Moreover, such accumulated knowledge and thinking forms the basis for
: preformed ideas are evaluated against more rigorous academic research involving
analysis of what actors articulate about their experiences. So, while the

primary focus of this
research is on actor experiences, there is a significant focus on my own journey and
transformation as a researcher.

A central concern of this research project is to find appropriate frames, tools and techniques
for categorising and

analysing the experiences of actors in performance and understanding
what happens within the internality of an actor while performing. The study also includes
examination of the ground of, and contingencies to, such experience. In my view it is
to analyse these corollary factors because they are pivotal to the constitution of actor
experiences and are integral to understanding performance phenomena. Experiences cannot
be conceived in isolation from the socio
cultural matrix, technologies and inte
dynamics within which they are inexorably located.

As researcher, I examine, analyse and interrogate actor experiences (and my apprehension of
them), and attempt to understand the phenomenon of what happens to an actor while
performing. To put i
t another way, I investigate and theorise what it is that actors feel,
perceive, and experience, and the states of embodiment that accompany such subjective,
bodily and perceptual experiences. To this end, I interviewed professional and amateur
actors, act
ors in formal training programs, and actor educators, in order to assess the extent to
which my own accumulated thinking about the nature of such experiences is corroborated by
formal research.

Actors have not often had a forum for articulating what it is

that they think and feel within the
temporality of performance, and, indeed, how a particular performance has shaped their art or
determined their future careers. I can recall an actor who, after what appeared to be a
challenging but ultimately triumphant

performance, walked away from acting altogether, not
wishing to see the inside of a performance space again. I have often wondered what happened
to him in that performance and what states within his internality created his apparent aversion
to further per
formance. Consequently, the focus of this research is primarily on performance
experiences, self
perceptions, cognitions and understandings of actors. The study includes
actors who are learning their craft in formal training programs, as well as actors who



professionally and amateurs for whom acting is a hobby. My focus is on their

experiences within the context of a performance phenomenon. It is my intention to compare
and contrast the lived experiences of these groups of actors, and to identify

and analyse a
range of states of internality, including performance strategies.

My strongest conviction about what happens to actors, one that I appraise in this study, is that
there is a complex interaction of internality and externality within the exp
erience of actors
during performance. It is my contention that this complexity is grounded in formal actor
training programs and skills formation experiences, and developed in diverse events of
theatrical performance experienced by actors, including the fo
rmation of role. The unique
existential condition of each actor is also, I maintain, significant in the inimitable expression
of this complexity. I suspect, also, that directors, dramaturges and acting teachers tend to
suppress the importance of this exist
ential human condition and the
sui generis

that actors
bring to performance. For me, this is a fundamental constituent element of performance. This
suppression of the importance of the existential state of actors is driven by the pragmatics of
tuning actor
s for performance such that there is a stripping back and removal of personal
habits or qualities that are deemed to potentially impede performance and a building in the
actor of a skill set and a disposition suited for a particular theatrical project.

ere is also a concern in this study with a set of questions about performance, experience
and theatre that have long been of interest to me as a theatre maker. It is my intention in this
research to engage with such questions. These questions include the f
ollowing: What is it that

experience during performance in a theatrical production? What is the
ontological nature of such experience? How can the phenomenon of experience be
understood within the broader frame of performance? What factors
impinge on and sponsor
experience? What is the role of the audience in shaping what actors’ experience? What is the
ground of experience for an actor? What is the place of training in shaping experience within
the temporality of performing? These research
questions focus on the complex relationship
between interiority and exteriority that attends acting performance. Using a
phenomenological approach and research tools derived from social research, my intention is
to explore these questions and critique my o
wn thinking in regard to such questions.

In order to understand actor internality and critically examine my reflections about
experience, discrete ontological categories for analysing experience within a broader
phenomenology of performance are examined i
n detail in this study. These categories are


drawn and elaborated, as suggested earlier, from extensive notes and reflections in my
research journal, sponsored significantly by the research literature. Also analysed and
discussed is the role of training (f
ormal or informal) in shaping what it is that actors
experience while performing. The notion of ‘sedimentation’ is introduced to indicate a
layering of habituations, learning and memory of experiences related to performing within
the experience and practic
e of actors. Sedimentation is positioned as integral to experience,
the core of which, I believe, is formed in actor training programs. By implication there may
be aspects of performance and the experience of the actor that are not easily accessible or are

backgrounded or absent for an actor. What we can know of a performer’s experience of
performance is also mitigated by the selectivity and bias of the individual actor. In other
words, what do performers want to share from their experiences?

y, this qualitative research, given its focus on experience, needs to engage with
highly diverse fields of knowledge, including European philosophy (especially
phenomenology), psychology and ethnography, as well as performance research, actor
training meth
odologies, and theatre and performance theory. The task of understanding what
actors experience in performing requires the breadth of the discourses and perspectives
offered in these fields. Indeed, the complexity and cultural matrix of such human experien
necessitates such compass.

Given the choice to focus on experience and internality, together with an understanding of
externality and the larger constitutive elements of performance,
(or the
phenomenological) is the prime approach for e
xamining experience in this study. Smith
(2009) defines phenomenology this way:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the
person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its
intentionality, its
being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or
about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its
content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate
enabling conditions.

It is these “struc
tures of consciousness” that I am concerned with in this study: structures of
perception, awareness and felt states, among others, as they are reported by actors,
juxtaposed with my own consciousness as a researcher of the participants and their


s as performers. Moreover, an actor’s intentionality, by which I mean a directing
towards the world and the givenn
ess of an actor’s body in the world, is critical as the ground
of experience. Without engagement with the world and the content of the world t
here is no
content to consciousness and thus no experience of the world. In terms of a phenomenology
of theatre performance, this means that experience and what is contingent to experience in
theatrical spaces or within theatrical events are interwoven. Th
us, it is important, as I have
stressed above, to deal with both the reported experiences and the

of such experiences,
or what Woodruff Smith calls “enabling conditions”. In this study, I make claims about the
nature of both. Woodruff Smith’s defini
tion is limited, however, by his seeming lack of focus
on bodies as another matrix for experience. Experiences of body and being in a body, the
visceral and the somatic, would seem to me also to be an integral aspect in any consideration
of experience. Par
t of my approach is a phenomenological reduction or ‘bracketing’ of
phenomena from the world in order to apprehend them. In this study ‘bracketing’ is mainly
achieved through reduction of reported experiences to text, which then can be systematically
lled and analysed through the employment of ontological categories and philosophical

While the central methodology of this study is derived from phenomenology, the tools used
to gather data about experience and to identify phenomena are draw
n from social research
methods. Moreover, the approach has an especially ethnographic turn with its focus on socio
cultural context, first
hand accounts by participants, thick descriptions and interpretations.
LeCompte and Schensul (1999) describe the ethn
ographic technique of research this way:

Ethnographic researchers learn through systematic observation in the field by
interviewing and carefully recording what they see and hear, as well as how things
are done, while learning the meanings that people attr
ibute to what they make and
do. The idea that the researcher is the primary tool for data collection may not be
comfortable for those who believe that science and that the presence and interaction
of the researcher in the field may bias the results (2).

he key ideas in this definition are observation, recording, focus on meanings and the central
place of the researcher in the research. Included within this ethnographic approach is a set of
tools for facilitating careful recording, including the semi
tured interview, the reflexive
journal, observation and field notes.


Therefore, the methodological approach in this study is labelled, ‘ethno
However, the term itself, while useful for representing what is a

approach to inquiry,
is potentially problematic because it might suggest a privileging or prioritizing of an
ethnographic approach over a phenomenological approach. Such is not the case. The term
phenomenological’ should be taken to mean that the approach to data gather
systematic recording and writing is ethnographic, whilst the way of looking at or interpreting
the data is orientated to the phenomenological, influenced as it is by the philosophical ideas
of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau
Ponty, Immanuel Levinas an
d Alfred Whitehead. The
term ‘ethno
phenomenological’ implies ways of

experiences with

explore and interpret experiences. As such ethnographic and phenomenological approaches
have different but complementary functionalities within

the research.

As a broad generalization, academic literature within theatre, drama and performance studies
appears to be orientated towards exteriority in regard to performance and theatre acting. This
orientation is suggested by an emphasis in many acade
mic journals on critique and criticism,
on semiotics and representation, and on theatre history and textual analysis. Even a cursory
examination of research journals in the last twenty
five years suggests limited concern with
internality, experience and t
he use of personal testimony as a research approach about acting.
Fearon (2010) observes:

Academic analysis of theatre and performance tends to be based on the personal
interpretations of professional academics and critics whose responses are trained
n literary or performative criticism (132).

In this research, it is my intention to place unequivocal emphasis on experience, and
especially on structures in consciousness, pertaining to:

The internal, dynamic and organic states of actors while performing;

The strategies that actors use to adjust to the exigencies within the temporality of

Theorising about the ontology of the subject
bodies of performers in performance;

poetics of performance as articulated by actors;

The aesthetics and contingencies related to an acting space (or spaces);

The notion of ‘place’ in the experiences of actors;

The experience of temporality and constructions of time in the experience of an a


The broader existential frame that forms the ground for experiences of actors;

Influence of props and other objects on performance experience.

The state of being of an actor in performance, together with the interaction of cognition, soma
and voliti
on in performance, are of great interest to me. I see a niche area for research that is
built on the points listed above and which explores the fluid and ephemeral states of being
that appear to exist in performance. In sum, this study is grounded ethnogra
phic and
phenomenological research that is motivated by my professional interest in actors and what
they experience. It is also a piece of basic research in an area of performance studies that does
not appear to have received much focus in the academic res
earch literature. Finally, this
research is a vehicle for testing a set of assumptions about experience, performance and
training that have developed out of praxis and the speculative thinking that was prompted by
the research literature.

Section 1.3


One article that especially provoked my interest in the experiences of actors, and the
ontological structures of such experiences, is the work of Lockford and Pelias (2004) and
their topology of performance knowledge. They propose five aspects of thi
s performance

Communication: Are the actors engaged in an ongoing process of negotiating and
coordinating their characters and themselves through interaction? Do the actors seem
connected, listening to and incorporating what each other is saying
? Are they
adjusting their thinking and action according to what they are hearing? Are they
producing a coherent story?

Playfulness: Are the actors open to possibilities? Are they functioning with
spontaneity and imagination? Are they playing with languag
e? Are they recognizing
linguistic and social constraints? Are they working within the limits of the given
circumstances? Have the actors moved beyond established patterns to the
"intricacies" of the scene?

Sedimentation: Are the actors relying upon lifet
ime structures of learning? Are they
trusting their bodies, following their impulses, paying attention to what feels right?
Have they become reflective about their hidden, tacit knowledge? Have they
considered the degree to which their sedimented behaviors

match those of their

Sensuality: Are the actors’ senses alive, ready, actively engaged? Are the actors
taking in what they need? Are the actors feeling with their bodies? Are they open to
the pleasures of sensory response?


Vulnerability: Are

the actors willing to put themselves at risk? Are they willing to try
to make difficult situations work? When feeling vulnerable, do they have the ability
to keep the focus on what needs to be accomplished? Are the actors willing to trust
one another? (44

Lockford and Pelias point to the notion of a body
subject in performance. They also
delineate a body
action, including the strategies, awarenesses and knowledges that are
intuitive (or should be intuitive) in an actor’s performance subjectivities
. Their ontological
categories embrace both the ground for experience and the possibilities within experience, as
related to the expectations of performance. Both the conceivable structures in consciousness
and felt states are implied in their topology.

owever, even within the work of Lockford and Pelias, in which there is a more significant
focus on internality, there is an implied sense of an actor being observed, rather than
experiencing. Their topological structures suggest expectation, rather than ac
tuality. I
maintain that within a phenomenological study of actor experience, the


experiences, as reported by actors, are primary. However, Lockford’s and Pelias’ categories
of examining what actors might do, and the states that actors are
possibly in during
performance, are most useful as constructs for understanding experience. Certainly, within
this study, their topology was employed in developing interview questions and for
constructing ontological categories for analysis of reported exp

To these categories of performance ontology I would add ideas about the

(and by
extension, cognitive) nature of performance. Beyond the felt experiences and bodily states of
an actor in performance (which are primary and highly import
ant in this study), there is a
volitional layer in which outcomes, even in regard to such performance decisions as where an
actor chooses to stand at a particular moment in a performance space, may be deliberative
and consciously thought through. A conscio
us cognitive layer was suggested in the anecdote
of the two young actors described above, shown in adaptive intentional actions in the world
of the play and in the performance space. Of course there may be intentional actions that are
not within the consci
ous awareness of an actor and may be habituated in the body.
Intentional actions can be, thus, volitional and self
aware, and attended by cognition, or
habituated and not overtly in consciousness. Indeed, both types of intentionality may act
together to c
reate a unified embodied state of an actor in performing.


As indicated above, Lockford and Pelias explicitly discuss the

on which such
experiences are based. Their notion of ‘sedimentation’ is particularly significant in
understanding the root of p
erformance experiences and has had fundamental influence on the
development of my own understanding of sedimentation. In this study I argue a case for the
potent effects of sedimentation on the nature of what actors experience while performing; it
a phenomenological theme that is rendered throughout this study. As noted above,
sedimentation refers to established habituations, memories and practices of actors (the tacit
knowledge) as they become embodied during performance and thus shape the experien
ces of
performance and the facility of actors to be adaptive. The use of the metaphor
‘sedimentation’ suggests that there are a series of layers of relatively solid and stable
practices that shape an actor’s response in performance and become a ground for
At the same time, however, these sediments are always being deposited on and aggregating
with the existing layers of knowledge and memories for an actor, suggesting that for each
new experience of performance there are new combinations of memor
ies that affect the
experiences of performing on the next actual occasion. In addition, there is always the
possibility that this sedimentation could be substantially compromised and changed by
training, experience or circumstances that are revolutionary o
r extreme in nature.
Sedimentation can also be closely aligned with a self
educative process that actors engage in
as part of a group or through individual reflection throughout their lives, such that it is
suggestive of a broader existential life frame.

It is with this in mind that the perspectives of actor educators, including their approaches to
and the methodology of training actors, are indispensable to this research. Actor educators
establish frameworks for practice that actors may bring habitually a
nd intuitively to
performance. Therefore, actor educators form a peripheral but important part of the study in
terms of their presumed contribution to the sedimentation of actors. Six actor educators were
interviewed as part of this inquiry. Some of this i
nterview is used to provide contextual
material for the analysis of actor interviews and journals and to test claims and propositions
about training and sedimentation.

Section 1.4


This study functions partly as a meta
narrative of my own r
esolve to fathom the experiences
of actors and understand the role of contingent factors that impinge on such experiences.


However, in pursuing this research interest, it has to be acknowledged that, as a middle aged,
Caucasian male, I come with my own bi
ases, gendered perspectives and cultural proclivities.
There are, inevitably, certain patterns of thinking, discourses and experiences that may colour
the research and give it an idiosyncratic hue. For example, my theatre experience primarily
comes out of
a western theatre practice in which narrative coherence, a unified notion of
character and moral certitude tend to be valued. There is an implied expectation from the
audiences that come to my shows in regard to the aesthetic values articulated above. More

experimental, postmodern and non
Western forms are certainly of interest to me, and I have
incorporated such forms in some of the theatre works that I have made. However, given that
most of my practice has been in community theatre, there is limited scop
e for such alternative
sensibilities. Incontrovertibly, this limited frame of experience and sensibility is brought to
my interactions with actor participants and to the data that comes out of such interactions.

That being said, it is also my desire to mo
ve beyond such limitations (to the extent that this is
possible) and to be open to what actors have to say about their experiences and to be sensitive
to their idiosyncratic condition and to the diversity of cultural perspectives they wish to share.
I also

believe that while my being
world as a middle aged white male is an existential
state capable of constraining the possibilities of research, this same state might also foster or
facilitate particular types of research. I certainly bring to this stu
dy a body of praxis and
reflexivity created through over thirty years of hands
on theatre work, and I am an
experienced pedagogue. This experience means that I have a range of tacit knowledge about
what happens to actors during performing based on years of

informal observation and
conversations with actors. This embodied knowledge makes the case
based, dense
ethnographic analysis typical of this study an especially apt form, given my disposition
towards understanding actor experiences and ease of working wi
th actors.

A thoroughgoing critique of my position as researcher, and of the ideas and methodologies
that I espouse in this study, is an integral part of the inclination of this research approach.
This inclination to critique is complemented by a reflexive

and auto
ethnographic dimension,
so that I have an overt presence in this research. The broader issue in terms of research that
comes out of my decision to bring meta
analysis to bear on the outcomes of this research,
concerns the nature of what is implie
d in doing research. It is not usual to critique one’s own
research. If one takes a positivist line then the inquiry should bring results that are consistent
with the methodology. But if one is to take a more constructivist position (see Knorr


), then research itself is a discursive process or journey of discovery and rediscovery that
is neither fully complete nor ultimately definitive.

The use of a research journal, while certainly not unique in qualitative research, became for
me mostly a pers
onal tool for mapping my research journey. I made the decision early to
systematically date and number each entry, and these entries became extensive over the life
of the project. Within the journal there are field observations, layered with analysis,
ulations and reflections inspired by the literature. The journal also contains numerous
diagrams, concept maps and lists, some of which are included in the thesis. As an extension
of the previous point, I undertook, from the earliest entries in the journal
, systematic criticism
of ideas, perspectives and structures as they emerged.

A final particularity to do with the presentation of this thesis is the extensive use of concept
maps (sometimes referred to as mind maps or flow diagrams) to represent key ideas
, states of
being and phenomena
. Initially, I employed these diagrams as cognitive devices to facilitate
my understanding of complex phenomena without the specific intention of using them in the
thesis. I consider myself to be quite a visual thinker or at

least a person who has a preference
for the visual in order to foster understanding, so most of the diagrams in the thesis started
life as hand drawings in my research journal. What I have come to realise is that these
diagrams are also powerful communica
tive and rhetoric devices for representing the complex
ideas and phenomena dealt with in this study. In using such diagrams, the Husserlian ideal of
bracketing a phenomenon and then representing it in consciousness is adroitly achieved.
However, such diagr
ams should not be regarded as static or promoting any idea of fixity. On
the contrary, they are intended to suggest complexity, fluidity and dimensionality.

Section 1.5


The thesis is structured in the following order:


Articulating the ground f
or the inquiry;


Identifying research questions;


Developing a set of claims about these questions based on accumulated evidence


On the theory and character
istics of concept mapping, and its place in academic discourse, see
Novak & Cañas


drawn from practice and research literature;


Formulating a method to test and evaluate such claims;


Collecting data through the
use of tools of ethnographic research;


Analyzing data using ontological categories and a set of philosophical perspectives;


Coming to conclusions that support or refute claims;


Noting limitations and possibilities for further research.

Maxwell (1996)
has criticized linear approaches to research as being “not a good fit for
qualitative research” (2). In contrast to linearity, Maxwell proposes a richly interactive
model: one in which the unfolding perspectives of research and the various components of
search are highly interconnected, not “a fixed sequence of steps” (3). Whilst there is a
rigorous design to this study, (a spine that is delineated above), it is, nonetheless, highly
interconnected, with a self
awareness of limitations and differing perspe
ctives. The design is
emergent and evolving in that it begins with a curious and reflexive researcher who is on a
research journey where his original claims and perspectives could easily be challenged or
problematised. The inquiry is neither fully inductiv
e nor fully deductive; rather, it contains an
amalgam of both approaches. As Alfred North Whitehead stated in his 1929 Gifford

The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the
ground of particular observation; i
t makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative
generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational
interpretation. (Whitehead, 1978, 5)

For me “the ground of particular observation” is my practice as a theatre maker and
as an
observer of actors. The “flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization” is the set of
diverse claims about acting, experience and theatre forged from praxis and imaginative
exploration of the research literature. And the “renewed observation r
endered acute by
rational interpretation” suggests my gathering and interpretation of data from actors and actor
educators who participated in this inquiry, together with a critical evaluation of the acuity of
the original starting ground.

It is more than

feasible that a simpler research approach to an investigation of the experiences


of actors could have been undertaken, namely, an inductive and qualitative inquiry into
actors’ experiences of performing, preceded by a discussion of previous research and
onclusions drawn from an analysis of these case studies. But such an approach might have
placed my grounded concerns as a researcher and my voice as a writer (as ethnographer) into
the background. Frankly, I may not have found such an approach as stimulati
ng or
compelling; nor do I believe that the level of engagement with and critique of key ideas about
experience and its contingencies would have been as significant and as far

What have emerged in this study are two distinct but complementary mo
des of inquiry. First,
there is what might be termed a ‘wide’ approach. This approach entails examining a range of
factors that impinge on, affect, or foster actors’ experiences. It is my contention that a
phenomenon cannot be properly understood without c
ognizance of such factors. Indeed, these
factors both create and shape experience and so they are part of what constitutes a
phenomenon by necessity. Second, there is what could be called a ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’
approach in examining what actors said they ex
perienced and through reduction finding the
essences of such experiences
. The ‘wide’ and the ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’ are used in concert to
understand experiences and what may create them within a particular contextual frame.

Illustration 1.1 below schematize
s the content of the study, showing the focus of each chapter
and the ostensible links between chapters, unfolding the inter
active and multi
linear model
of research discussed above. It is clear in the diagram that the central thrust of this thesis is
ut the

of a set of claims concerning the nature of actors’ experiences of
performing and includes factors that affect such experiences, especially sedimentation. As
such there is a direct link between Chapters Two and Seven. The claims that are ma
de in
Chapter Two are evaluated and critiqued in Chapter Seven. In Chapter Three the
methodology for gathering data and tools for textual analysis are introduced. In Chapter Four
a set of
philosophical frames and perspectives

(that I term ‘lenses’)

are art
iculated. These
frames and perspectives are deployed in Chapters Five and Six to facilitate the examination
and analysis of data. The results of the analysis of data become the basis for judgements
about veracity in Chapter Seven.

What follows now is a br
ief summary of the content of Chapters Two to Seven.


The us
e of this term ‘deep
’ is influence

Cataldi (1993), who, using notions drawn from Merleau
explores emotional depth as a quality of
understanding and embodiment.


Chapter Two

This chapter functions as both a literature study and a series of detailed elaborations in which
an array of claims about actors’ experiences of performing and related concepts are
. The basis of the chapter is a set of suppositions drawn from praxis and from
reflections derived from reading selected research literature. This chapter came into being
from a concatenation of notes in my research journal, in which I began to develop an
emergent series of performance
related constructs that are wide in scope. Thus, the chapter
represents a detailed and systematic exposition of my initial exploratory thinking in this
research, up to and including some of the first interviews with actors an
d actor educators.

In this chapter, claims are constructed in regard to notions of performance (particularly in
regard to role), experience and internality, presence and externality, time and temporality,
space and place, sedimentation, an actor’s life fr
ame, artistic ‘filters’ that regulate
performance and actor training methods. The central question in Chapter Two is the
following: What claims do I make about actors’ experiences of performing and about
contingent and related factors as they affect such e
xperiences? The validity of such claims is
alluded to in Chapters Five and Six and fully explored in Chapter Seven. The main argument
of the chapter is that experience is complex and multi
layered, and is inexorably shaped by a
range of factors that encroa
ch on it.

Chapter Two is especially long and methodical in style, given the scope and complexity of
concepts elaborated. The length, and the systematic approach taken, is necessary to establish
the elaborate conceptual ground needed to contextualize and f
rame the analyses of actors’
experiences undertaken in Chapters Five and Six. Within these chapters frequent reference is
made back to this conceptual ground and to the validity of claims that emerge from it. It is
important to regard the concepts elucidat
ed in Chapter Two as unified (and thus belonging
together as one chapter), since all these concepts are critical for conceiving both an ontology
of actors’ experiences and the context in which such experiences are constituted.

Chapter Three

This part of th
e thesis expounds the methodology of the study, namely, ethno
phenomenology. As stated above, this is an amalgam of two research traditions: ethnography
and phenomenology. From social research methodology (and especially ethnography) is
derived the data ga
thering tools, including the semi
structured interview, the reflective


journal and field notes, as well as the approach of understanding phenomena within a
particular social and cultural milieu, or what I term ‘wide’ inquiry. Also introduced is the
of phenomenological reduction, using propositions derived from phenomenologist
Edmund Husserl. The means of reduction used in this study is textual, with interviews with
participants transcribed for textual analysis and then marked up in regard to their on
features. Finally, a set of specific textual coding categories is explicated. These categories are
used to identify ontological features of experience as apparent in transcripts of interviews and
journals. The important question in this chapter i
s this: how is data to be collected,
categorized and delineated? This chapter presents a detailed exposition of the use of narrow
and deep textual analysis juxtaposed with a broader ethnographic perspective. Both
approaches are deployed in synergy in order

to understand comprehensively what actors
experience in theatrical performance.

Chapter Four

Chapter Four provides a detailed exposition of three philosophers, Merleau
Ponty, Levinas
and Whitehead, who are deployed as interpretative lenses or perspective
s through which to
view the data gathered from actor participants and actor educators. Selected ideas of these
philosophers are discussed in terms of what these ideas can possibly bring to an
understanding of actor experiences, embodiment, contexts of thea
tre, dramatic creation, and
relationships within the context of theatrical performance. These ideas are actively employed
in the analysis and exposition of research data in Chapter Five and Six. From Merleau
the notion of the subject
body and its in
tentional, situated engagement with the world is
explored as it relates to performance. This focus on the individual is complemented with the
ideas of alterity and relation from Levinas. The ethics of obligation central to Levinas’
metaphysics is explored
as it appears relevant to performative contexts and

provides an interpretive frame for what actors experience of otherness. Finally, Whitehead
provides a perspective or lens on the constitution of elements of a performance phenomenon,
and his wo
rk is suggestive of the inexorable role of experience in such a creative constitution.
A key focus in this chapter is on how I
understand actors’ experiences and corollary
factors that impinge on experience, utilising these three distinct philosophic
al perspectives.
This chapter, like Chapter Two, was written (in its first iteration) prior to the analysis of
interviews and journals. Again, the core ideas in the chapter were developed in my research
journal. The contention of Chapter Four is that the i
nternality of actors is a complex


phenomenon and requires a breadth of perspectives in order to reasonably encompass its

Chapter Five

This is the first of two data analysis chapters. This chapter focuses on detailed thick
descriptions and interpretations of the experiences of actors
training, evident in the
transcripts of interviews, journals, field notes and other observations. This
and the next
chapter emphasise the ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’ thread of this study. The milieu for these
experiences is each actor’s participation in a theatrical production. The descriptions are built
on a set of ontological categories that are used to different
iate types of experiences and
identify corollary factors to experience. Within this chapter, four actors in training programs
are introduced and their unique socio
cultural circumstances are elucidated. Material from
each participant’s acting teacher is wo
ven with a discussion of experiences of performing in
order to illuminate the role of training in the disposition of experiences and to suggest a
connection with the broader frame of sedimentation. Throughout these analyses, the
perspectives of Merleau
ty, Levinas and Whitehead are implicitly deployed to focus
discussion on embodiment, relation and creation. For each of these participants, I have
synthesized the phenomenological character of their experiences through the use of a concept
map. Each map fo
cuses on the structures of consciousness obvious to me as researcher. What
is evident in the chapter is that each actor has a unique footprint of experiences and essences,
though the importance of training, and its apparent sedimentation in experience, was

by all participants.

Chapter Six

Chapter Six is the second data chapter and presents analyses of interviews with four actors
about their experiences of working in a theatrical production. Three of these actors had
completed actor
training programs
, and one actor had no formal training, but he had had
many years of acting experience with community theatre companies. The approach to
description, analysis and interpretation is equivalent to that employed in Chapter Five. The
place of actor educators i
s not as explicit in this chapter since there is no material included
from each participant’s acting teacher. In this chapter reference to training is only made as
offered by actors themselves. Of the many findings from this chapter, two key ones are that
actors show a greater awareness of their experiences and bodies during performance than is


commonly thought and an actor’s life frame is a significant factor in what is experienced in
performing. Surprisingly, the previous formal training of an actor still

played a significant
role in performance and experience, even some years after the training.

Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven focuses on an assessment of the validity, appropriateness and accuracy of
claims that are elucidated in Chapter Two. As part of this a
ssessment, the methodology of the
inquiry also comes under scrutiny. The chapter includes a range of conclusions about and
implications of the research, as well as recommendations for future research possibilities
based on perceived limitations. The focus
is on the question: What critical understandings
does the analysis of data bring to my claims about actor experiences and corollary factors to
such experiences? Perhaps the most important findings expressed in the chapter are that
actors’ experiences of pe
rforming are both complex and diverse, that the audience and
personal factors play an important role in such experiences, and that actors’ awarenesses are
more acute than is often expected in performance situations. Moreover, sedimentation
appears to assum
e a significant place in the constitution of experiences. Finally, the
experiences of actors and the disposition of their internality, far from taking away from what
is constituted in a performance phenomenon, appears to be an important element in its


Illustration 1.1

Thesis outline




Section 2.1


The approach of organising research in a linear progression from the particular (the data) to
the general (conclusions about data) is not possible in this st
udy. Indeed, I do not believe that
such a linear inductive model is ever feasible or fully realised for any researcher. In many
cases, researchers have a set of working principles or hypotheses in place

data, and this certainly is the case

in this study. Such working principles are often based on
term tacit knowledge that has not been rigorously examined but provokes further inquiry
(see Collins, 2001). Blaikie (2010) suggests that there are, in fact, four distinct, but often
en, research strategies. To induction and deduction he adds
. This is the
use of ‘thick’ descriptions and concepts “derived from everyday concepts and accounts”
(105). The use of the term ‘abduction’ may also refer to an accumulation of concepts d
from previous experiences, bodies of literature and research. Finally, Blaikie includes

in his list of strategies, by which he means the explanation of social phenomena
by means of mechanisms within a particular context.

There is a cre
ative interplay between so
called inductive and deductive, as well as abductive
and retroductive, approaches to gaining knowledge in this research. Also encompassed in this
interplay of approaches is the notion of trial and error, utilizing Karl Popper’s i
dea of testing
and assessing instances of failure (Popper, 2002; Jeffrey, 1975). Another influence is the
Kantian perspective, that knowledge is both transcendental and empirical: organised within
structures of consciousness and derived from the world sens
orially (Kant, 2007).

The central questions in this chapter, then, are as follows. What concepts, hypotheses and
frameworks have emerged in regard to actors’ experiences of performing, based on my praxis
(and thus my tacit knowledge) and the literature wi
th which I have engaged? Furthermore,
how do such frameworks, hypotheses and concepts equate or correspond to the data gathered
about actors? Finally, what is the efficacy of such frameworks and concepts in understanding
what actors experience, including w
hat is absent from my elaborations? In Chapter Seven, I
offer conclusions that address all of these research questions. In sum, a composite of
approaches to research is offered in this study, and these approaches are held in juxtaposition
in order to shed
light on both the experiences themselves and on the process of attempting to


understand such experiences within their context.

In this chapter, there are three discrete sections that contain ideas and elaborations which are
designed to frame and delineate
the study and to develop several concepts that are significant
for analysis of data in later chapters. They are also the focal points for evaluation of my
claims about experience. In the first section, key elaborations about actors and what possibly
tutes their embodiment in performance are identified. Included in this section are the
terms ‘performance’, ‘experience’ and ‘presence’. In the second section, the concepts of time
and space are positioned as being key factors that impinge on and shape exp
erience for
actors. Finally, personal and professional factors that may affect experience of performance
are introduced. Included in this section are the metaphor of sedimentation, notions about an
actor’s life frame, and the role of training in the consti
tuency of experience. At the end of this
chapter I offer a summary of both the conceptual frameworks developed in this chapter and
the claims about actors’ experiences that emerge from these frameworks.

Section 2.2


Section 2.2.1


to this study, and pivotal to my investigation of actors’ experiences of performing, is
the term ‘performance’. It is used to suggest both what actors are
a part of

and what they
Actors experience

as well as perceiving what is being done. Between

these two states
there is accommodation and adjustment. In sum, the term is employed in a specific way in
order to understand what actors experience and how this experiencing is situated. In the
material that follows I explicate the term in order to diffe
rentiate my use of the term from
commonly accepted usages.

The pervasive nature of this term and its appropriation across a diverse range of academic
contexts, disciplines and discursive practices is well documented (see, Palmer & Jankowiak,
1996; Carlson,

2004). In popular usage, ‘performance’ could imply what a rock band does in
delivering a song to a receptive audience. It might also mean what a clown does in a circus
act. It is a term that is emblematic of the Arts in all their diversity and particulari
ties across
the fields of music and theatre, as well as public spectacles.

Performance could be as broadly employed as suggesting that all of us, in everyday life,
including me as researcher, are performers (States, 1996) and that our gender is performed


a series of layered acts (Butler, 1988). Performance appears to be as definitive of occasions
such as processions (
, 1985) as it is of emerging virtual reality contexts
(Ryan, 1997) and theatrical recreation of histories and archiv
es in documentary theatre
(Martin, 2006). Performance is inclusive of notions about performance landscapes in socio
spatial theatre (Westgate, 2007). The term is used in regard to new ecological understandings
of space and performance (Kershaw, 2007), or p
erformance as a political act (Martin, 1990).
The breadth of usage of the term ‘performance’, its acquisition by a range of distinct
disciplines (and thus its transdisciplinary employment) and its complexity of application are
expressed concisely by Jacks
on (2004): “Performance’s many connotations and its varied
intellectual kinships ensure that an interdisciplinary conversation around this interdisciplinary
site rarely will be neat and straightforward” (15).

Given this ubiquity, I want to distinguish th
e use of the term to describe the

or the
life from the frame

of the
dramatic and the theatrical
, a frame that could be termed
ordinary (see Beeman, 1993). Though undoubtedly they intertwine, as Natanson argues
(Natanson, 1966),
performance in everyday life and the taking on of social roles in the
context of frames of everyday social interactions (Brissett & Edgley, 2006) can be
distinguished from specialised performance contexts associated with theatre spaces

In some cultures,

including Asian and African cultures, such separation is artificial (see, for
example, Dowsey
Magog, 2002). Though in the concept of ‘social drama’ Turner (1988) and
Schechner (1987) imply a connection between the everyday and the dramatic or theatrical,
many traditional societies theatrical ritual is associated with a discrete sacred space. This
designation of ‘performance’ as a distinct space of presentation positions the term as a
phenomenon of


(see Counsell, 1996). All of the a
ctors who
participated in this study performed in specialised theatrical spaces, so the term
‘performance’ is used quite specifically to frame these precise creative contexts.


I am using this term as an anthropological construct following the work of Bateson (1972 & 1979) and
Goffman (1974), as well as Entman (1993). Turner (1982) neatly defines the term this way: “To frame is to


a sector of sociocultural action for the general on
going process of a community’s life” (34). This
often means establishing rules of inclusion, and specific notions of time or space. There is also a reflexive
element as a frame comes under inspection or
analysis. The concept of a ‘frame’ is a useful paradigm for
understanding performance.


Read (1993) argues that theatre is beyond the everyday but “ironically dependent” (ix) on it. The everyday is
thus the necessary ground for theatre’s existence.


Bauman (2004) suggests that performance is an act of expression by a performer
that is
framed as

and positioned in terms of communicative responsibility to an audience.
Bauman is implying that performance has an existence

and is thus capable of being
documented and objectified (Auslander, 2006). It is an artefact, b
ut, at the same time, it is
also process and organic, fluid, ephemeral and changeable. For an actor, the experience of
being observed, observing, and objectifying an embodied experience are aspects of what I
call ‘performance’. Much as an electron in phys
ics is both particle and wave, so a
performance could be conceived as both documentable (and thus an artefact) and embodied
expression and experience (objectified and subjective). A performance leaves traces in the
memory of all those who performed in and
witnessed it, memories that are explored in
transcripts of interviews and journals of the actors analysed later in this study.

Schechner (1985) has expressed the ‘doubleness’ of performance in cultural terms. In
performance (and especially in theatre) a r
eading or interpretation of culture is offered, but, at
the same time, representations in performance are culturally determined. Both the

performance in terms of culture and the cultural

of that performance are interwoven
and cross
nating. Performance could be conceived as event that is made and then
observed (teleologically located in time as object or cultural artefact), that which is

(what is being lived through in temporality), and that which is analysed as
culture. T
his fluid relationship between event, experience, and critique is often negotiated
through sign systems that function deictically in the spectator
performer relationship (see
Elam, 2002). Performance, as elaborated above, is a culturally
embedded event

hich is
experienced temporally and has a materiality that means it can be documented, while at the
same time it leaves traces that are part of rooted memories and can be imbued with paradox
and surprise (Dastur, 2000). In exploring actors’ experiences of t
heatrical performance, all
three aspects of performance within this definitional frame are considered. Indeed, the
interviews conducted with actors demonstrated the pervasive nature of event, experience and
critique in their memories.


The Theatrical Event
, Sauter (2000) focuses on the communicative encounter between audience and
performer that is experienced as event. Such encounters have, according to Sauter, a quality of ‘eventness’,
despite the specificity of their context.


Performance, for the

purposes of this research, is also a phenomenon of

between a performer and an audience, often, but not always, in a dedicated and codified
space, one in which the audience is invited to watch and thus understand that an artifice is to

take place: that they should suspend belief and move beyond the architecture to a space of the
imagination, through diegesis and mimesis. The use of the term ‘dedicated’ means that a
space has been imbued as having a specialised functionality which Meyerh
old (1969)
suggests implies an overt sensibility about the relationship of actor to audience in a space.
Just as there are dedicated places of ritual and worship in many religious traditions, so
performance occurs in what could be conceived as a ritual spa
ce (Turner, 1982). Any space
can have this ritual performance quality if it is emblematically set aside for performance, and
carries gradations of being ‘sacred’ (see Avorgbedor, 1999). By ‘contracted’ I mean that
there is a palpable

that is as
cribed to a performer in the act of performance by all
agents involved in a performance, be they the audience, the production team or the actors.
This expectation may be a significant constraint on what an actor experiences while
performing, but it could a
lso be a catalyst for experience since expectation can evoke an
affective response from both performer and audience. For one actor with whom I worked in
this study, expectation became a touchstone for driving his aspirations as an actor; while for
it produced anxiety and a tendency towards desiring perfection in his delivery of a

According to Feral (2002), “space is a vehicle of theatricality” (92). Any performance space
carries expectations and potentialities before a performer enters a spa
ce to perform. There are
aesthetic and pre
performative states that exist prior to performance but which are,
nevertheless, co
extensive with performance and codify both performers and audience. There
is a sense that both performer and spectator come d
iscursively into a theatre space, and the
actor assumes the specialised bodies of performance (see Zarrilli, 2004, 655).

These notions of ‘contracted’, ‘expectation’, ‘dedicated’ and ‘codified’ may be important in
understanding the reception that an actor

experiences in performance. But they also form the
performative ground upon which performing is built for an actor. Such a ground could be


The ter
m ‘contracted’ suggests that there is an agreement that is binding and mutual between an audience and
performers. There is a contract that an audience makes with performers in paying money and coming into a
space to watch a performance. According to Deight
on (1992) audiences are consumers of performance, and like
all consumers they have product expectations.


significant in abetting what is experienced during performing, a claim tested in this study.

Dramatic role is al
so integral to what is experienced by actors while performing. Arguably,
dramatic role is created in an environment of pretence. According to Osipovich (2006), a
theatrical performance is

a particular kind of interaction between performers and observers (
actors and audience
members) in a shared physical space. A necessary component of this interaction is that
the performers pretend that the interaction is something other than what it actually is
and that the observers are aware of this pretense (461).


Osipovich, there is a shared physical space in theatre involving actors and an audience
who come together to create make
believe (a suspension of reality) as active agents in a
performative interaction. Part of this pretence involves the relationship of a

performer to role.
Performance is conceived in terms of role in this research because of what I see as its
essential place in what actors experience in performance. Role is taken to mean an

creation of a discrete fictional personality separate fr
om, but interpolated through, a
performer or actor, existing in a state that is ascribed ‘dramatic’ and having a degree of
contrivance associated with it. Role implies entering a new state of being prompted by the
framing of a space as ‘other’, as fictiona
l/dramatic ‘other’. It is a fluid construct that suggests
how an actor physicalises, makes and appropriates (even colonizes) a character within a
performance context and in response to audience reception. Role is thus about what is shown
in the body throug
h action and expression.

It is important to differentiate ‘character’ and ‘role’ (see, Stanislavski, 1950). The term
‘character’ is taken to mean a

construction of a fictional personality (as in the work of
a playwright in a play) or a constructio
n of elements of a fictional self that more
less form
a gestalt (as in more improvised or group
devised theatre)
. Character is thus an abstraction
based on a set of representations, images and ideas. Individuals in an audience certainly
develop notions

about a character in reaction to a role created by an actor. Each actor
interprets a character and embodied representations of a character

his or her
performance. The relationship between role and character can be viewed as a question of

does a character create a role or does a character emerge out of the embodied acts of


See Pavis & Shantz (1998, 52).


role? In my view, a character exists both prior to performance as potentiality and is emergent
in performance through interpretation, embodiment and reception. However,
a character is
never complete or stable but emergent in the serendipity of performance as a construction in
consciousness. Performers and spectators share an understanding, even a
, that a
performance involves a transformation into a constructed o
ther world that is fiction and in
which characters ‘live’.

The embodied presence of a performer or actor in a space in relationship to an audience is a
dynamic way of conceiving performance generically. The introduction of ‘role’, with the
performer as ‘a
ctor’, brings with it a possibility of paradox (Feral, 2002, 100; Schechner,
1985). The self of an actor is held always in tension with the making of a character. An
audience never fully believes that an actor is the character; nor does an audience believe

an actor is not the character. It is at this fragile or liminal point of tension and paradox that
role exists or does not exist. This is why role is central to an actor’s experience of
performance and should be differentiated from other aspects of pe
rformance. An actor’s
embodiment of a role could also be said to include particular performance bodies that are
adopted or put on for each occasion of performance. A performer fashions these bodies and,
in turn, other artists including other actors, direct
ors and dramaturges shape these bodies.
These ‘shapes’ are formed through repetition and “standards of practice” and map a “social
identity” (Cohen, 1998, 485) within a performance context.

Experiences of an actor in this fictional state of ‘other’ are, m
less, mediated by role. In
many theatre contexts, role is a prime determinant of actor agency within performance, a
contention that seems to be supported by interviews with some of the actors in this study.
Furthermore, there are discursive practice
s that are specific to role
. Both role creation and
discursive practices associated with executing role, I contend, are significant factors in how
an actor experiences performing, a point explored in the analyses of Chapter Five and Six.

Of course the no
tion of the centrality of role in the internality of an actor is not new. For
Stanislavski (1950), in
Building a Character
, what is clear is a rejection of both emotionalism
and a set of external acting clichés (see, also, Mitter, 1992, 32
36). Instead, he

asks an actor
to “Learn to love your role in yourself” (23), suggesting the primacy of role such that an actor
adapts his or her physical actions and internal states holistically to the requirements of role.


On the connection between agency, discursive practices and discourse, see Thibault (2004).


For Stanislavski, ‘role’ is the
raison d’être

f an actor’s existence. By the use of the word
“love” Stanislavski also implies that a significant element of engagement, passion and
commitment accompanies the embodiment of role. My claim is that role is all consuming and
a pivot around which the experie
nces of acting performance are built. In examining the
experiences of actors in this study, this claim assumes critical importance in my thinking,
though it is possible that my own partialities as a theatre maker have mediated it in this way

Kirby (1995)
has taken a different approach to conceiving acting performance. He has
proposed a continuum between acting and not acting, between existence and its negation, and
he suggests that “not all performing is acting” (43). Kirby amplifies what he means by this
notion of acting and not
acting by introducing the term ‘matrixed’. He uses the term to
suggest that a performer is fully embedded in the fictional world as a character.
‘Nonmatrixed’ performers, according to Kirby, are those who are not part of this ficti
world, even if they appear to be so. The notion of a continuum implies that there are degrees
of being ‘matrixed’, and that acting can be a variable quality, one that can disappear or appear
at will. While Kirby uses terms such as ‘acting’ and ‘matrix
ed’, he is, in effect, suggesting the
existence or non
existence of role.