Publication Details

Hayes, J.. Through a glass darkly: Gesture in actor training. Monash University. 1 July. 2011.


Cognitive science has offered rich understandings as to the meaning and role of gesture in communication. Whilst the neurosciences and behavioural and cognitive sciences forge ahead with new insights into human interactions, the theorisation of acting in order to take account of recent research in these fields is slow on the uptake. This paper seeks to integrate research from both cognitive science and phenomenology to explore the ways in which gesture transforms action. The paper aims to elucidate modes within actor- training that enhance subtle and in-depth performed communication. The term body-language (Lamb & Watson 1979; Pease 1987) has often been used within acting processes as if gesture can be considered as a code. However, the day to day unconscious, spontaneous and sometimes subtle movements of fingers, hands, feet, muscles in the face and arms that accompany speech have been revealed by cognitive psychologists (McNeill 2000, 2005; Kendon 2004, Goldin-Meadow 2003) as an active ingredient in the formation of speaking and thinking. McNeill (2005, p. 3) emphasises that gestures act in real-time ‘propelling and shaping speech and thought’. They act as a ‘dialectic between imagery and language’ (2005, p. 16). Phenomenology embraces the concept of a kinaesthetic landscape that exists prior to human intention being translated into action (Smith 2006; Lingis 2004; Irigaray 1986). Whilst physical forms of actor training pay close attention to kinaesthetic imagery, the complexities and contradictions of language-enhanced performed action require actors to fully engage with their own gestural subtleties.