NPR conducted a poll in which they played two sounds during a broadcast: one was hot water being poured into a glass, and the other was cold water being poured into the same glass.
The results? Eighty percent of the 30,000 respondents guessed correctly on the cold water, and a whopping 91% guessed right on the hot water (I’m a little unclear about how you get one right and not the other, but I didn’t see the original poll). And how were people able to tell the difference?
Cold water is more viscous, or sticky, than hot water. That’s what makes that high pitched ringing, and it’s what tells your brain – this glass of water is cold – before you even take a sip.
The difference is extremely subtle: click the link above and listen, and you’ll see what I mean. And yet a very high percentage of people were able to distinguish between these two sounds.
I think this is very important because if we have this level of sensitivity to sound, it suggests that we are able to discern where in an actor’s body the sound is originating from when she speaks, and likely without even being aware of this discernment. In class, we seek to help actors approach their scene in such a way that their primitive need for connection with others is activated, a need believed by my teachers at the Yale School of Drama and by me, to live in the viscera, the gut, the lower abdomen. Think of the expression that something “was like a kick in the stomach.” That. When an actor’s impulses are originating in this place, something extraordinary happens, as I have written about many times before: speech that originates in the core confers upon the speaking actor a peculiar authority. We, the audience, can sense that the actor is speaking from the depths of her being. And the way we can sense it, for the most part, is that we can hear it. We can hear where the utterance is originating, where it is issuing from.
Now let’s consider that in light of what is known about mirror neurons. Briefly, mirror neurons are neurons that fire both when we undertake a certain action, like squeezing a ball in our hand, AND when we watch someone else do that same action, as in when we watch someone else squeeze a ball. Now, we know that mirror neurons are not confined to the visual realm, as is discussed in the video I linked to. So what I am suggesting is that when we hear an actor speak from the core, our mirror neurons in our core, in the place where we go to do a “gut check”, activate as well. SO OUR CORE FEELS AS IF IT IS SPEAKING WITH THE ACTOR’S CORE. And when we watch an actor speak, we bring the same level of sensitivity to watching that we do to hearing the sound, and this also tells us something about the place in the actor where the impulse originates, so the visual information also alerts us to the depths from which the actor is speaking. If you have ever watched a performance in a foreign language that you don’t speak without subtitles, you may have had the feeling that you could tell that some actors were much better than others in spite of the fact that you could understand precisely nothing of what was being said. That’s because you could feel that something was being made to happen inside you as you watch.
Same thing with gesture and movement. When a gesture or movement is animated from the core, we understand that instinctively when we watch it, because the mirror neurons in our own cores are firing, making us feel that we are moving or gesturing as well!
It’s all pretty dope, don’t you think? It makes you want to…act! And there’s a class starting on August 19 where you can do just that! 😉 Email me at email@example.com to find out more