Method Acting: Sense Memory Exercise

Method Acting Moments: Mirror Exercise

The initial sense memory exercises include activities and situations such as having a breakfast beverage, applying make- up or shaving.

Following we have a variety of physical exercises, known as Overall Sensations, which require movement and are fully enveloping experiences. They can include taking a bath or a shower. Assimilating extreme weather conditions such as cold or heat rain or strong wind or disoriented drunkenness. These exercises teach you, amongst other things, to engage parts of your body which are often ignored or forgotten about.

The Main Sense Memory Exercises are not designed to evoke emotional responses, but to activate and train your imagination and your senses for optimal theatrical use. Real and potentially strong emotions may unexpectedly appear during the exercises, but you mustn’t follow along with these emotions. Become fully aware of the feelings that arise and note the senses that trigger each emotion.

This is the way you build your Acting Inventory. Once noted you let it go and continue with the work. Lee Strasberg stated that acting takes place in the character’s present moment, as well as in the actor’s present moment.

This duality merges and can be achieved by activating each of the five senses so that they are in a receptive mode to interpret the reality of your character.

For this reason, you must put yourself into the now of the situation. By being fully present in the now you can perform your piece while being full of sensory awareness. Engaging and strengthening the senses build your stage presence and the belief of your audience in what you are doing.

With the exercises, you perform a sense by sense exploration of imaginary objects, activities, places, people, and physical realities.

Your goal is to experience the inner landscape of your sensory life arousing your subconscious as an agent of change and the basis for your artistic choices.

Strasberg urged us to adopt a daily habit of asking ourselves what sensory experiences we have and then noting down the detailed memories about the weather, sounds, people, sights, activities, or food.

This increases our power of observation, as well as our ability to share with others who are not familiar with our methods, what we had seen, smelled, heard, touched, and tasted. Turning static behaviour into dynamic action.

It was Stanislavski who most clearly made the connection between expressiveness and the senses, and he vigorously warned against mechanical empty speech.

Stanislavsky was a beacon of light and an inspiration for Strasberg and they shared a fascination with the mystery of the creative process that uses all of the senses.

In Stanislavski’s “My Life in Art”, in the chapter titled “The Beginning of My System,” he details the emotional circumstances of the time when the idea of the role of the senses became clear to him.

Stanislavsky describes it as if it were an epiphany: While in Finland during the summer of 1906, he and the entire company of the Moscow Art Theater, still reeling from the recent death of their beloved Chekhov, continued to doggedly evaluate their dissatisfaction and anxiety with their work. Stanislavsky pondered how the inner truthful content of a role bore in his soul and so strong in the beginning becomes weaker, fossilised, imitative, technical, and habitual as the role is repeated over time.

The sequencing and combinations, of the foundation sense memory exercises, were designed and taught by Lee Strasberg to enhance concentration and sensitivity through a sensory approach that stimulates the imagination, eliciting impulses, gestures, and behaviours that feed the creative process rather than a more phoney, mechanical imitation of reality.

You build a physical and mental discipline with these exercises by engaging your will and senses. The exercises also provide a way to engage the mind and body for extended periods by exploring imaginary objects and activities.

Foundation Sense Memory Exercise

Mirror/Make-Up/Shaving Exercise

The Mirror/Make-Up/Shaving Exercise is more personal than the Breakfast Drink Exercise as it specifically involves your visual sense of yourself.

Actors must understand themselves before they can understand and become a character.

By cultivating attention, concentrating on the details of the various tasks during the exercises, you are not to just go through the motions, imitating or miming the behaviour, but truly re-experiencing it sensorially.

You may have trouble seeing yourself in the imaginary mirror, which can be reflective of an inability to truly see yourself in real life.

If you find this exercise hard don’t repeat it over and over, as this can lead to frustration. Move on and come back to it another time.

When concentration wears off with distractions such as self-consciousness, boredom, worries, and exhaustion go back to Relaxation for a few minutes, regain your concentration, and then continue.

A benefit of practising the Mirror Exercise is that you’ll begin to use real or imaginary mirrors and reflections as a regular prop and cinematic technique to achieve a certain mood or value.

When you master this exercise, you can imagine anything you need by looking in a mirror or out an imaginary window.

Keep notes in your Journal detailing the results of the exercises and your responses for later use.

Mirror Sense Memory Exercise Step by step

• Prepare for the Mirror Exercise

with your eyes open by staring at your face from the neck up in a real mirror, studying your mouth, lips, nose, ears, eyes, hair and eyebrows.

Be bold when searching for and studying imperfections, discolourations, scars, freckles, beauty marks, blemishes, the line of your beard or moustache, hairline, and wrinkles for about half an hour. What are the things you like and don’t like about your face? Consider what you’d change. Look closely and in detail, at the parts of your face you don’t normally study.

• If you’re bearded and don’t normally shave, consider actually shaving it off to experience the shock of awakening to new sensations and reflections.

• Pay attention to subtleties such as how your bottom or top lip or the right side or left side of your face may have different and totally independent sensations or shapes.

• Put on your real make-up or shave in your real mirror, going much slower than usual. “in slow motion” if you will. Rushing leads to imitation and generic movement.

• What is the weight of the lipstick, the feel of the lather and the razor, the texture of the make-up brushes or powder.

When using an imaginary mirror and objects work slightly away from your body, avoid touching your face.

After completing the Relaxation, sit on a chair in front of the imaginary mirror and stare at yourself silently. For about ten minutes, imagine each of your facial features as you did in the real mirror. You know your face well and what you like and don’t like about it.

• Be methodical, go slowly, and deliberately go through each imaginary task involved in putting on make-up or shaving for about an hour. To fill that time, force your attention into the tinyest details, focusing on each sense, experiencing what you see, smell, hear, touch, and taste.

(The Actors Ultimate Warm-up)

Ask yourself sensory questions about each object you deal with. How does the blush-on brush feel in your hand, against your face or cheeks? Imagine the ‘pop’ sound of pulling the mascara brush out of its holder. What’s the smell, weight, texture, and the colour of everything being used? Start applying the imaginary make-up very slowly, without touching your face.

• If you are shaving in the exercise, imagine feeling the weight and the smell of the shaving cream, brush, container, and razor. Imagine the sound of the razor or the brush against your skin, the smell of the shaving cream, the water from, the sloshing sound as the water goes down the drain, the feel of cleaning off the razor under the running water, the sight of the cut whiskers in the shaving cream, the temperature of the water and the sting or the soothing feel of the after-shave lotion or cream you use, the red colour of the blood from a cut on a white towel or against the porcelain sink.

• Proceed slower than you would in real life. You’re going to be working for an hour, so take your time and continue to relax in addition to what you’re doing. Don’t mime picking something up. When you want it, imagine having it in your hand or midair.

Do not rush as leads to imitation.

If you’re a person who usually feels the need to hurry, this methodical, slow, and specific work is very hard.

You’ll be surprised at your responses when you take your time, and you will also be empowered as you change the habit of rushing.

Since the Mirror/Make-Up/Shaving Exercise is intrinsically personal and deals with your visual image and sense of yourself, emotional feelings about how you look and feel about yourself will arise. Some people may cray.

The complexities of how people feel about themselves are embodied in their behaviour, but this is not the purpose of the exercise.

Be careful not to indulge and become emotionally overwhelmed or out of control. If that happens breathe, make sounds, move arround and go back to Relaxation, to then continue with the exercise.

Actor’s Comment

“I shaved this morning for the first time in a long time and I noticed that after doing the Mirror Exercise, my movements and my mind slowed down unbelievably as if I was in a slow-motion video of myself. I felt and heard the razor against my face, and I smelled the shaving cream. I was shocked at how relaxing it felt. Without touching my face at all, I felt tingling and itching sensations on my nose and the right side of my face and my hand moved to scratch it. It felt so familiar. I resisted the impulse, and the tingling got stronger. As I resisted while staring at myself in the imaginary mirror”

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