Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Holding on to the basics: using the 3-D performance pyramid to improve skill retention in the introduction to acting classroom

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Geoffrey Meek (Other)

Third Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)


In this study, I combine my background in actor training with the athletics training methods of Scott Sonnon to consider ways to introduce psychophysical stress into the training of beginning acting students. I contend that the incremental introduction of stress into the learning process allows beginning acting students to better retain newly learned skills.

To examine this contention I taught a section of the Acting Principles course in the Theatre department at Bowling Green State University in the fall of 2013. This course was designed using Sonnon’s Three Dimensional Performance Pyramid, which is a pedagogical model for learning new skills and training attributes while stress testing those skills and attributes. I taught introductory elements of Stanislavskian acting, but combined it with specific stress management tools, and with regular stress testing throughout the semester.

I then analyze the practical work through a mix of personal observation and data analysis. Students completed tests at three points during the semester. Some of these tests checked their understanding of the course content and their personal experience of the acting process. The other tests were personality tests. Each of these personality tests was intended to measure one of sport psychologist Roland Carlstedt’s three Primary Higher Order factors for performance under stress: Absorption, Neuroticism, and Repressive Coping.

I found much to recommend this approach. I discuss ways in which student’s understanding and acting work improved over the course of the semester. I reflect on the range of student responses in detail. Further, I learned many lessons about this type of research and the application of scientific research in the acting classroom. I also spend significant time reflecting on this process and considering ways to best approach research that bridges the performing arts and the humanities.