Sense Memory

LevelBeginner to Advanced
RequirementsSomething that will stimulate one or more of the five senses such as a photograph, a location, glass of water, food, fabrics, perfumes, etc.
RehearsalSpend a week trying to memorize the subject using every sense possible. Do Relaxation Phase 1 and Phase 2 and then spend about 10 minutes engaging with it using as many senses as possible, taking your time.
CompetencyConcentration / Imagination
Skills DevelopedCreating a bubble so that the only stimulus affecting your behavior and emotional state are those of the given circumstances of the scene.
Created ByLee Strasberg

Acting Principles

  1. By taking in as many stimuli from your surroundings as possible and then articulating each of them will help you exercise all your senses and hopefully, make you a more receptive actor
  2. The actor can learn to recall these sensory impressions from the subconscious by concentrating on the stimuli and sensation associated with them.
  3. Our senses to respond on the stage must be as we do in our regular life.
  4. By concentrating on the stimuli associated with a sensory experience, we’re attempting to find those senses that create a corresponding emotional response to help us in our work as actors.
  5. The goal is to experience something “real”. If the actor believes that what he is doing is real, he will experience real emotions, and the audience will empathize and feel those emotions as well.

Summary

We perceive our world through our five senses. As we live our lives, we begin to attribute meaning to specific senses. For example, if we smell vanilla, we may feel happy, safe, relaxed. This happens because vanilla is used in baking, and baking is usually done by a mother or grandmother during a happy or festive time, such as Christmas. Simply stated, “sense memory” is the remembering by the five senses of the sensory impressions experienced by the individual in everyday life. These impressions are stored in the subconscious. If you’ve ever been hungry enough and thought about your favorite food, chances are your mouth “watered.” This is an example of your senses remembering the taste of the food and responding accordingly by activating your salivary glands. The Sense Memory Exercise is a key to unlocking the door of imagined reality. Faithfully executing a Sense Memory exercise each day will aid the actor not only in believing the truth of his life onstage but in developing stronger powers of concentration.

Application

To start, find an area where you can sit for as long as you need to complete each step of the exercise.
You will start this exercise using a glass of water.

  1. Sit at eye level and examine it; note the color, taste it, feel it slide down your throat
  2. Feel the glass, smell it, examine the glass for patterns and irregularities, note the temperature
  3. Notice the texture and hardness of glass, the weight
  4. Observe how it fits in your fingers or hand, study every inch
  5. Then, leave the object
  6. Try to recreate it using all five of your senses; sight, smell, taste, feel, hear

You are aiming for a response within 5 – 15 seconds. Please note, this takes time to develop, and if you don’t practice it daily (roughly 20 mins a day), you will start to lose it. The good news is that with just a little practice it can come back easily.

Next, try this same exercise using a photo instead of a glass of water. This exercise requires practice, but the great thing about it is you can literally do this at almost any time and in any place.

Examples

Imagine that you’re an actor cast in a movie that takes place at the North Pole, but the actual scene is filming inside a studio. Your character has been stranded miles away from civilization with little in the way of protective clothing. You find a small shelter between some rocks. The director wants a couple of shots of you huddled between the rocks to show how miserably cold you are, and one of the shots is a close-up. The conventional actor can “play” this scene by indicating the cold in the usual way, shivering and blowing his/her breath into their hands. He/she is pretending to be cold and doing an “act out.” But you aren’t them – you are a professional – and you want to create the reality of the cold in stark detail. To complicate your work, the studio lights are hot, and you’re sweating; the opposite of what this scene calls for. The makeup artist visits you frequently to wipe your face and touch up your melting makeup. But, even before the director calls “Action!” you’ve already begun creating the “cold” for yourself. You will have a sensorial recall of how the freezing cold affects you, and because you’ll have done the technique’s exercises many times over, your performance will be authentic and full, not fake and phony like the person who pretends to shiver. Because of doing the exercises, you will know that the cold affects the tip of your nose and the edges of your ears first. You will know that your lips get numb very quickly, and your fingers get stiff and hard to move. You will know that if you place your hands under your armpits or between your legs, it will warm them up. You will know that your toes go numb, and you close off your body as much as possible when you’re cold to conserve heat. Instead of pretending to blow air into your hands like the other person, you warm your hands under your armpits, and place them momentarily over your ears, then back under your arms, creating the reality of the cold for yourself and making the scene full and real, and the audience will empathize with your pain.

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