By Stina Bergman Blix
This thesis takes as its starting point the dramaturgical metaphor of the world as a stage, which is used in sociological role theories. These theories often presume what stage acting is about in order to use it as a simile for every day acting. My intention is to investigate how stage actors actually work with their roles, in particular how they work with emotions, and how it affects their private emotions.
The thesis draws on participant observation and interviews with actors during the rehearsal phase of two productions at a large theatre in Sweden. The results show that the inhabiting of a role for the stage is more difficult and painstaking than has been assumed in role theories so far. Shame and insecurity are common, particularly in the start up phase of the rehearsals. Interestingly, these emotions do not disappear with growing experience, but instead become recognized and accepted as part of the work process.
The primary focus is the interplay between the actors’ experience and expression of emotions, often described in terms of surface and deep acting, concepts which are elaborated and put into a process perspective. Analysis of the rehearsal process revealed that actors gradually decouple the privately derived emotional experiences that they use to find their way into their characters from the emotions that they express on the stage. Thus private experiences are converted to professional emotional experiences and expressions, triggered by situational cues. When the experience has been expressed the physical manifestation can be repeated with a weaker base in a simultaneous experience, since the body remembers the expression. It is important though, that the emotional expression is not completely decoupled from a concomitant experience; then the expression looses its vitality. The ability to professionalize emotions makes the transitions in and out of emotions less strenuous but can infiltrate and cause problems in the actors’ intimate relations.
Keywords: role theory, stage actors, theatre, emotion work, emotional labour, shame, deep acting, surface acting.