Publication Details

Hayes, J. E.. Naked to all but ourselves: some notes on actor training and phenomenology. Australian National University. 1 July. 2010.


Just as an audience can critically view the synthesised structure of any performance, evaluating the component elements which create meaning, so too each performing body in itself reflects nuances of embodied cultural meanings. Merleau Ponty’s phenomenology (1962; 1965; 1968) argues that human consciousness is ‘caught up’ in the ambiguity of the corporeal body so that any human body is both materially of the world that at the same time it is consciously directed towards (Merleau-Ponty 1962, p. 146). The body that is in action is already immersed in a subjective reality of its own and others making. For the actor, the negotiations between intentionality and viewed action are a daily consideration. These interactions between any body/subject and her lifeworld are partly visible for others to see. Yet the immersion in a lifeworld and the commitment to it mask reflection most particularly from those enacting it. We are revealed to others through our bodily performances in ways for which we ourselves do not have access. This paper is based on the author’s doctoral research (Hayes 2008), where Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology is used to explore the experiential processes of actor training in Yat Malmgren’s actor training technique. My aim in this paper is to outline several of Merleau-Ponty’s concepts, in particular Merleau-Ponty’s concepts of ‘refusal’ (1962, p. 82) and his more recognised concept of the ‘chiasm’ (1968, p. 152), in order to offer a rich means of researching the development of actors’ skills, Both concepts enable new means of challenging actors’ habitual performance modes, whilst at the same time supporting their embodied agency.

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