Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mirror Neurons

Friday, October 16, 2009


I read last night of the death of Hank Tausend, the husband of Iris Lieberman, a sweet and generously talented actress I have known for years.  Iris and I never became more than acquaintances, not through any dislike, just the way life goes as we hustle through it.

We met in passing on the street several weeks ago and we exchanged greetings, and a very brief chat.  She moved on down Michigan Ave and I continued up Michigan Avenue, passing through the lives of all those other unmet people, those weaving their ways towards their  destinations, creating the warp and woof of the sidewalk.  Passing each other unknown, known, eyed, despised, unnoticed, envied, admired, and dismissed.

We are eternally in passing.

So right now, I would like to take the time to express how much I love and treasure those whom I have passed and will continue to pass, those in my life closely, those whom I frighten,  those whom I have met briefly, those whom I have lost, those who have no time for the likes of me, those whom I have hurt, and those who have hurt me and those living far and wide outside of my sphere.  I love you all.

New Light On Nature Of Broca's Area: Rare Procedure Documents How Human Brain Computes Language

New Light On Nature Of Broca's Area: Rare Procedure Documents How Human Brain Computes Language Shared via AddThis

The Thinking Meat Project

The Thinking Meat Project

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What I said, or tried to say, at the Neuroanthropology conference at Notre Dame

 Speaking to a group of amazing scientists was frightening, but I was so happy to be asked.  Below is the 6 minute presentation I was asked to give.  
My hypothesis is that theatre’s highest calling is to function as a ritual activity for audiences and actors wherein both are changed on a spiritual level.  If we see the play, whether scripted or non-scripted as a journey from one point to another, it then follows that the actors, who are already initiated into the mystery of the play, must lead the audience through the terrain.
As a trainer of actors, I have two primary questions:
1.How can we best train actors to take the audience along with them on the journey of the play ?
. What can we theatre people learn from neuroanthropology, psychology, biology, and sociology and what can we tell those disciplines about human behavior.
I have been pursuing the answers to these questions for over thirty years. 
As with all serious students of acting, the work of the Russian acting theorist and director, Konstantin Stanislavski, 1863-1938, was the beginning of real learning for me.
While Stanislavski’s work is frequently misunderstood, he remains the most important theorist of acting of all time.

At the end of his long search for a system to train actors, he finally concluded that in order to fully reveal the conflict of the play, the actor must give up the pursuit of being  a character, and move to a more transitive concept of identity. 

In my reading of identity theory over the past 30 years, I came to believe that his understanding of this malleability whether accepted by psychological theoreticians or not, was appropriate to drama, because plays take place when the world everywhere is changing for all involved.

Given this it seemed to me that the actor’s responsibility was not to delineate character, but to participate fully in the essential and archetypal relationships in the play and to and allow the audience to create the character in their own minds.

For this to happen, two stages are necessary for the actor.  First analysis, and second, embodiment. The analysis involves careful study of the play’s given circumstances wherein the actor carefully and methodically implants vivid, sensory and emotionally connected images of the entire fictional world into her consciousness. As this occurs and accretes, the actor begins to live in a liminal state, neither completely in this world, nor completely in the world of the play.  As this happens the emotional power of the images become one with her own experience and she begins to respond to her partners, be they objects or other people on an impulsive level within that world.  And with repetition and physicalization, the patterns of actions become a part of her body and therefore her emotional life.

The actor must assume that her basic humanity is sufficient. She must abandon her own personality, but use her own instrument. At this point she becomes more a channel for action than an intellectual interpreter.
She must continually respond impulsively and physically to the forces acting on her.  She must initiate actions as a result of her reactions to external forces.  And to be truly effective those actions must be directed at her partners who will in turn react, thus forwarding the action of the play.  Her challenge is to get out of her mind, to become oddly passive.
Whether the action of the play is physically realized or repressed, the actor’s job is to hop out of the analytical phase of rehearsal, and into instinctive response through the embodiment of need and action.  A “flow” state will be reached and the actor will move beyond the limitations of intellect and self-consciousness.
Because the actor is working towards actions and reactions, rather than states of being, it is my belief that the audiences mirror neurons are excited.  And they are excited to the extent that the players are intentional.
When I first was introduced to the idea of mirror neurons, I was struck because at the same time I was reading a new translation of Stanislavski and came upon the following quote.:
“Haven’t you ever been aware, in life or onstage, when in communication with other people, of a current emanating from your will flowing through your eyes, your fingertips, your skin? What shall we call this method of communication? Emitting and receiving rays, signals? Radiating out and radiating in? In the near future, when this invisible current has been studied by science, a more appropriate terminology will be established.”[1] Konstantin Stanislavski.
Well, that made all the sense in the world to me!  These rays/signals were quite possibly mirror neurons and Stanislavski’s instinctive understanding of this phenomenon was being affirmed by the overwhelming power of Science!.

My own pedagogy has been centered in the belief that action/intention within a set of given relationships is in itself the revelation of character, therefore the actor’s job is to manifest identity through “doing” and let the audience decide what it means.  In other words, the actor in humbly and courageously reacting to the situation at hand in a simple human fashion is doing exactly what the audience would also do.  As the audience follows the logical small and large actions of the play, they can only be lost if the actor’s actions moves logically out of the imaginary circumstances.

Character-based theory postulates that characters/people have a recognizable center, and the actor’s aim is to find it psychologically and gesturally and to manifest the found identity through “becoming”. This leads the audiences to comfort, but not necessarily to true involvement.

My hope is to find a way to recapture our lost audiences and challenge them towards a deep empathy for what it means to be human through creating a theatre that is at once a ritual and a spontaneous happening wherein the actors spiritual journey is transmitted to the viewers.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Off topic, but maybe not.

The letter below was written by a friend of mine, Lorenzo Clemons. He points to one of the major diseases facing the urban community, young men killing other young men.  As far as I can see, this is actually a sort of suicide and needs to be treated as such.  Jesse Jackson just called for the use of the National Guard to create safety for children going to and from school.  Absurd.  We need families walking to school together.  We need mothers and fathers and uncles and aunties so engaged that the idea that their children should walk alone is not even considered.  If all of these children had communal care and love, the horrors that confront us everyday would be eliminated.

How does this relate to myth, mirror neurons, etc?  We need a return to the tiny daily rituals of womanhood, manhood and family.   We need to encourage empathy which is our natural tendency.  How do you train the mirror neuronal activity out of a child?  Are the young mothers so overwhelmed, so disengaged that their gaze does not rest on their children frequently enough to encourage empathy?  Has television as a babysitter created too much distance from the human presence while the babies watch unbelievable violence? I have no answers.

I know that I have no right to weigh in on this problem. I am an older, caucasian, non-mother, but we all are mothers of these children.

Open letter to College Age African-American and Hispanic/Latino Males (17 to 35)
By Lorenzo Clemons

Dear Son:

I hope you will allow me to call you son. I know you are not really my son, but you could have been and still could be. You could have been the son we lost in miscarriage some 15 years ago. You could be, if you find in my daughter the kind of person and women you can build a solid life and make your dreams a reality.

I find it necessary to write you because I have grave concerns about your future and in actuality my own future as well. The news lately has presented some serious challenges in the way of crime activities that seem to make a point to include you and people like you. The most alarming concern is that the crime comes from the same people you ‘hang’ with or you want to call “your boys”. It presents a problem for me, because of this danger; I will not have you to be proud of as I grow older. I will not have the bragging rights to talk about your accomplishments and how you are a “chip off the old block.” My friends will not be able to comment on how much you remind them of me in my younger days. I will not have you to prepare my grandchildren to love and respect the legacy that was given to me and I tried to pass along to you. What a waste and what a tremendous tragedy that one of “your boys” will and could cause all this destruction and interruption of our legacy.

When I was your age looking forward to success in my life, I do recall my friends wishing only the best for me. I recall the men in the neighborhood pointing with pride that “that boy is going to make it.” I didn’t know where or how I was going to make it, but I knew I had support and I was not in fear of “my boys” taking me out of life’s game or even pushing me off my life success track. Even when I served my country and was stationed in Southeast Asia during the sixties and many of my friends’s perished in Viet Nam; I had no fear of my success. One of the things while serving in the service, we found a way of bonding together by calling each other ‘Brother’. The greeting of the term “Brother” meant so much to each of us. We knew that the world was not always kind to people of color, and we knew that lynching’s and mob actions were actually taking place in the United States. We knew we had to support each other and in doing so making sure we mutually supported each others survival.

What a wonderful feeling it was to return home and start looking for that old girl friend or the joy of finding the a new love. It was great to get back to normal life and receive the hugs from momma and grand-momma, which encouraged us to live a good life and find a great wife. Not one time did we ever believe we were pursuing ‘bitches or chicken-heads”?

Why do you and your boys insist on calling each other ‘dogs’ and keep informing us that the expression should be viewed on the same level of my generation’s “Brother”. When we expressed the words, it was for spiritual respect and genuine hope that we would have individual and mutual success in life. The term ‘dog’ is not a term of endearment. I am aware that your generation professes love for animals, but yet you hear about dog fighting and animal abuse related to gang-ism, macho-ism and your generation’s insensitive-ism! So, how can you in good conscience continue to refer to each other as dog? Brother was not a term to mask the negative tone of the term nigger or niggah. In fact the term Brother was our way of making sure we would never have to face the derogatory term to describe a base and dehumanized concept of our manhood.

As a father of a daughter that I love and cherish, I know I would want to throw any man in the deep part of the river who referred to her as a bitch or a chicken head. The sounds of such words are offensive and demeaning to any sane person’s sense and sensibilities. I know there are some females who endearingly refer to each other as ‘bitch’, but that admonishment is for a letter to my daughters.

Son I know you to be for the most part a caring and concerned man, but I am concerned that you have not done enough to correct the behavior of “your boys”. If there is correction to be done, it must be by you. Me, and my boys are considered out of touch or not able to relate to the issue your boys face. Of course I and my boys see the issues in a different manner, but I want you to not think of our every conversation as me taking you to task for one failing or another.

I know any future happy existence for us all is tied to your grasp of what I am presenting to you today. I have this great concern that if you don’t speak up or take action of leadership in this ethical battle for ideology of respect and positive character, that all will be lost.

Finally, I want you to take a hard look at me and put yourself in my shoes and at my age and my space in time. I want you to really look into my eyes and my heart and know I love you even if I am fearful of your future. You can put my fears to rest by taking the challenge I present to you about your leadership role for you and your boys. Please know that there are many young boys who want to be like you. These boys are not much different then you when you expressed the desire to be like me, and I expressed the desire to be like the men who were a part of my life. Maybe I have not done all I could to instill the responsibility of life to you as I should, but I am willing with your help ready to correct what ever error I may have done in this life process. I need you to accept my requests to be more then you are right now and never fall below any goal or legacy that was set before my time and space. Know son that I love you with all my heart and I expect great things from you. There is never failure in a hard and serious try towards success. Thank you for being my son and thank you for what I know you will do!