Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Proposed Exercises for Memory and Emotion in Acting Pedagogy: A Shared Narrative with Science

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Ronald E. Shields

Second Advisor

Eileen Cherry-Chandler

Third Advisor

Michael Ellison

Fourth Advisor

Howard C. Cromwell

Fifth Advisor

Annette Mahoney


Theater history records centuries of intersections between the scientific understanding of human behaviors and the skills needed by actors to create representational drama. This study reviews a shared historical narrative between science and acting with selected examples from medical traditions and acting traditions. Advancements in twenty-first century neuroscience have changed our understandings of basic principles governing the body and behaviors which pushes theater artists and educators to reconsider how we teach acting. This dissertation proposes acting exercises derived from neuroscientific behavior models which focus on performance memory and emotion expression. A serious study of acting requires a strong understanding of embodied knowledge, knowledge gained from experience. In order to guide acting students through the acting techniques, the study focuses on defining terms and basic scientific concepts and then applying the science through classroom exercises. These proposed exercises, Memory Accumulation and Emotion Scales, are designed for first-year theater undergraduates as part of any standard beginning acting class. The Memory Accumulation exercises introduce memory techniques of encoding and decoding, the concept of chunking (accumulating bits of information into larger performance sequences), and the concept of binding (associating different types of memory into a unified performance memory). The Emotion Scales exercises introduce basic emotions and the progression of building compound and complex emotions with the technique of accessing qualia, controlling intensity, and releasing emotions safely. Ultimately, using scientific models as teaching models, the proposed exercises presented in this dissertation define and identify basic memory systems and basic emotions conceptually (through scientific models) and experientially (through acting exercises).