Relaxation of muscles and emotion memory are both important tools from ‘The System’ which actors would use in rehearsal to prepare for building a character. These techniques would also be useful when the actor is actually performing the role of this character.
Relaxation of muscles is the elimination of tensity in the actor’s body for the purpose of both rehearsal and performance. This is needed because muscular tautness interferes with emotional expression. Also, tensity prevents concentration, inhibits expressions and an actor cannot freely express anything when muscular tautness is present. According to ‘The System’ an actor cannot perform a role to the best of his ability unless his body, mind, will and emotion are efficiently relaxed.
Stanislavski developed the idea of relaxation of muscles when he observed some of what were, in his mind, the greatest actors of his day. He noticed how fluid, lifelike and realistic their movements were. The actors seemed to be completely relaxed, and they let the behavior of the character come through effortlessly. From this, Stanislavski developed his idea of relaxation and concluded that unwanted tension has to be got rid of and that the performer must keep in a state of both physical and vocal relaxation.
This is reinforced by Stanislavski stating that:
“Unless tense muscles are relaxed, the actor’s normal mental activity, and therefore the spiritual life of the character he portrays, is impossible.”
Another statement, written in ‘An Actor Prepares’, shows how important relaxation of muscles is:
“You cannot…have any conception of the evil that results from muscular spasms and physical contraction… Therefore at times of great stress it is especially necessary to achieve a complete freedom of muscles…not only during the quieter parts of your role but especially at times of the greatest nervous and physical lift.”
These two quotations show that the technique of relaxation of muscles is very important. Although this relaxation is just a physical thing to begin with, if the actor is tense physically, this will impose on his ability to emotionally portray and concentrate on her/his character.
There are many times when an actor would use relaxation of muscles when preparing for a role. The technique would be used in preparation for rehearsal in order for the performer to be able to get into the role of their character and concentrate fully on this instead of other stresses. Also, the relaxation of muscles would be used before a performer goes on stage for the actual performance as this is a time when they especially need to be relaxed in order for the performance to be lifelike and believable.
My opinion on relaxation of muscles is that it is very useful for an actor to be relaxed while preparing for a role. This is because I think that if an actor has not prepared in this way then she/he may still be concentrating on other pressures that they have, they may not be able to perform believably and the performance would not be as lifelike and would not have as much of an impact on the audience, who are ultimately the most important people in any performance.
Emotion memory is also an important tool which an actor may use in rehearsal to prepare for building a character. Emotion memory is when an actor uses their personal experiences and emotions to portray the emotion which would be felt by the character which they are playing. These memories are brought back by the actor in rehearsals and also on stage to help show emotions, especially when a performance is repeated many times, to stop it becoming dull.
When talking about emotion memory, Stanislavski commented:
“Just as your visual memory can reconstruct an inner image of some forgotten thing, place or person, your emotion memory can bring back feelings you have already experienced.”
It is important to bring back these feelings and emotions in order for the actor to draw on their own feelings and understand how their character would be feeling in certain situations that they are put in.
It was also said that “your first concern should be to find the means of drawing on your emotional material.” This emphasizes the importance of emotional memory because it states that it should be the actor’s “first concern.”
An actor may want to use emotion memory to understand the way his character is feeling. In order to do this, they can draw back to their own personal experiences, and therefore the performance and rehearsals would be more believable and lifelike.
My opinion on emotion memory is that it can be a useful tool for an actor in certain situations. However, in some situations or for some actors, it may not be appropriate, and this is probably a reason why Stanislavski withdrew from this technique.
In conclusion, both relaxation of muscles and emotion memory are useful tools an actor would use in rehearsal to prepare for building a character. I think that for most actors, in most situations, these tools are useful, however, there are also other useful tools which could be used as replacements or in conjunction with relaxation of muscles and emotion memory.