Acting: Emotion

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In this series of posts, I am looking at what we can learn from peer feedback practices in other disciplines. Lynn McNutt talked to me about peer feedback in acting.


Beyond the need to develop a vocabulary of technique, one of the common themes of my chat with Lynn was emotion.  I found that interesting given that it also popped up quite a bit in my chats with my creative writing and studio art colleagues.  But while those discussions discussed how to bracket emotion in the context of peer feedback and creative activities, removing emotion is far more challenging when it comes to teaching acting.  “They always want to emote all over the place,” Lynn shared, “Come in and cry.  But technique is trying to get something from somebody—that’s your action.”  It’s the combination of emotion and technique that makes acting a powerful craft.  The challenge then is how to negotiate those emotions in feedback practices.


Lynn approaches this challenge through a language of engagement, asking students in the class to pay attention to when they were most engaged and most disengaged while watching a scene.  Students then discuss those moments of engagement using the language of acting they’ve developed in the class.  Focusing on engagement moves the discussion away from student’s emotional response (particularly bored) and towards the effect of the scene, which is where technique offers the most insights.


I’ve noted before that this affective component feels very foreign to me but Lynn’s coupling of emotion and technique does have me thinking about the motivations behind really good academic writing.  In this model, I consider academic writing a function of technique, not simply at the level of language or citation but also in the certain habits of mind that produce arguments or that allow effective analysis of quotation.  And, while I don’t often see an emotional component to student writing, I do feel that passion plays some role.  After all, one has to care about what one is writing about.  At least, I know I have to care about this blog or about Emerging and that care—that emotion—coupled with technique, is what produces the result.  The question then becomes, of course, how to get students to invest in FYC writing.  I haven’t a clue how to go about that.  But thinking about these issues has given me one more avenue of approach, one I intend to explore.


About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.