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©2019 by Shannen Tan. 

ACADEMIC RESEARCH

With a background in Psychology and Theatre Studies, I am uniquely equipped with the ability to do various types of research - experimental, qualitative, quantitative, practice-as-research etc. This space is dedicated to excerpts and previews of academic papers that I had the utmost pleasure of researching and writing. 

My research interests include: Acting processes, emotions, applied psychology

EXCERPTS

TO BE OR NOT TO BE: EFFECT OF EMOTIONAL MEMORY ON ACTING PERFORMANCE AND ITS AFTEREFFECTS ON THE ACTOR

A QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE STUDY, 2017

For decades, there have been unresolved debates on which school of acting best trains actors to portray characters. There are two schools of thought: ‘physical-based’ acting or ‘emotion-based’ acting. For the latter, the Stanislavski method of psychological realism has continued to dominate the acting world until today (Vettorazzo & Colligan, 2012). Unlike physical-based theatre practitioners, Stanislavski emphasised the importance of the inner emotions and motivations of the character. According to theatre scholar Sharon Carnicke, this tradition stresses "the actor's apparent spontaneity on stage [to signal] a virtual experiencing of the life of the character, rather than a merely accurate mimicry of the external signs of behaviour" (R. Gordon, 2006, p. 88). As part of a theatrical realist movement, Stanislavski’s method became a pervasive influence that founded various modern Western acting traditions.

Over time, different strands and modifications to Stanislavski’s method soon began to emerge, thereby contributing to huge internal debates (Vettorazzo & Colligan, 2012) within the field of emotion-based acting. Interestingly, several theatre practitioners, including Stanislavski himself, began to shy away from one particular component of his early method: the power of emotional memories. From 1934-1938, Stanislavski made radical changes to his techniques and found solution in the body – “an instrument that would respond to the actor’s wishes without the fickleness of emotions or inhibitions of intellect” ( Benedetti, 1962, p. 67)  While Stanislavski discarded emotional memories as an ineffective method for acting, his student, Lee Strasberg, continued to embrace it by introducing it to America and disproportionately built a major part of his training method on emotional memory.

As far as psychological research is concerned, not much is known about the cognitive and affective underpinnings of acting. In this research, I answer the call to action for "cognitive science to take the stage" (Goldstein & Bloom, 2011) by investigating whether emotional memory, can influence the actor's mental wellbeing.


Thus, there is a gap in the psychological literature. There has not been a study that details how the use of emotional memory - whether by personal recall or imagination - can impact an actor's emotional resources. While the use of emotional memory has been effective in actor to craft an inner life for the character, how high is the cost in the pursuit of authenticity? …This is a question that must be answered given the pervasive influence of these two traditions on the acting world. The aim of this study is not to identify the better practice but to contribute to the on-going debate on how to best create realistic portrayals

EXPERT VS. EXPERT: THE PROBLEM OF EXPERT TESTIMONY IN AN ADVERSARIAL PROCESS

2016

Defence of unsoundness of mind (Section 84 of Penal Code) is an answer to any criminal charge. The successful pleading of which will result in the defendant’s acquittal on the widely accepted grounds of excuse for criminal liability.  Similarly, defence of diminished responsibility (Exception 7 to Section 300 of Penal Code) reduces a murder charge to culpable homicide if the accused is suffering from an abnormality of mind. Since the core of both defences is mental impairment, criminal forensic psychologists and psychiatrists inevitably have a role to play in criminal proceedings where the defence is pleaded. In Singapore’s context, it is ultimately left to the court to make the moral decision and judge whether the defendant should qualify for these defences. This then begs the question, if there are conflicting views between experts, how does the court decide who to believe? Currently, the traditional approach is the use of cross-examination where the adversarial process of litigation proceedings pits one expert against another. However, the adversarial nature of this process is beleaguered by problems of unreliability, bias, excessive costs and obfuscation of issues (Pinsler, 2015). As such, this essay seeks to examine these concerns and shed light on the extant solutions proposed by legal literature by analysing it through the lens of forensic psychology.

TNS CLOUD: THE NECESSITIES OF ARCHIVING

CASE STUDY, 2016

The practice of archiving and curation has to be specific to the context. Fundamental questions have to be asked: What is the purpose of your archive? For whom are you curating? Ng has already answered these questions and stated that the archive has two primary purposes. One of it is to build counter-narratives and the other is to transform the archive as a valuable local dramaturgical resource to students and academics alike (E. Ng, personal communication, 26th December, 2015). For the purposes of this essay, I will examine the decisions surrounding the archive. Primarily, I will be assessing the decision to add a paywall to the archive as well as the decision to use the archive to build counter-narratives.

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To conclude the arguments of this paper, it can be aptly summarised by the following quote from an interview with Alvin Tan himself: “[Singapore theatre is] subservient so market forces…now Singapore mainstream has come about…and it’s a good sign – but we must keep space for the fringe and strengthen it” (A. Tan, 2014).

TNS has come a long way since its founding in 1987. Despite their trials and tribulations over the years, the company remains “at the forefront of a socially conscientious brand of theatre”, “by means of post-modernist aesthetics and a minimalist mise-en-scene” that opens up an in-depth discussion and reflection of important and relevant socio-political issues (Seet, 2004). It is most opportune that they have contributed further to the scene by setting up access to their past productions as well as relevant creative documentation of their devising process. They should not be faulted for including a paywall for it then allows the archive to be sustainable and in turn, continually contribute to the growth and development of the local theatre scene.

With regards to TNS’ desire to use the archive to build counter-narratives, I would like to posit a caveat. While this direction of building counter-narratives is purposeful, focused and fits with the company’s branding as a socially-oriented theatre company, this archive can be limited by its specificity. By laying claim as a producer of counter-narratives, one would then neglect the works that do not follow this drive and reflect dominant narratives. This is a possible problem given that the narratives of the social world change and develop beyond anyone’s control. The archive must frequently reposition itself in the developing narrative in order to make sense of its contents. For instance, is the archive positioned to counter current narratives or narratives that were dominant in a particular period of time? As Featherstone aptly states, “The problem then becomes, not what to put into the archive, but what one dare leave out” (Featherstone, 2000). The direction of the archive must be focused yet offer a sufficient amount of flexibility for the archive to stay relatable in the long-run.

It is thereby of great importance that the archive is an extension of TNS’s direction and curates what is essential of the company’s corpus, or rather, the necessities to showcase what The Necessary Stage feel is “necessary” to speak out for.

THE POSTMODERN ACTOR: TOWARDS A PASTICHE OF ACTOR PROCESSES FOR EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE

PRACTICE-AS-RESEARCH, 2015

For my purposes, I have transposed the concept of pastiche onto the context of actor training and practice. Many critics and teachers have privileged either the element of the psychological or the physical over the other. This clearly shows how some may singularly devote themselves to one strand of acting praxis and even deem it superior to the rest. I seek to contribute with the general conversation regarding contemporary actor training by challenging such sweeping claims. Instead of developing my own individual method of actor training, I will be presenting my own pastiche of acting processes, one that is developed from various theatre practitioners, and thereby arguing along the lines of the sum ("the pastiche") is more than its parts ("individual acting praxis"). Thus, I hypothesize that this pastiche is useful in negotiating different problems faced by an actor in order to achieve truthful acting.

ELIZABETH LOFTUS AND A BRIEF HISTORY ON SUGGESTION

HISTORICAL STUDY, 2016

Prima facie, Loftus's work is heavily founded upon the work of two influential psychologists; theoretically by Bartlett and methodologically by Binet. However, it is myopic to simply ignore the fact that the core tenets of Loftus’s research have a long intellectual ancestry. In fact, foundation elements of research on suggestive influence can be traced back to as early as the 18th Century. From exorcism to hypnosis, the history of understanding the power of suggestion is a convoluted one. Nevertheless, it is important in demarcating how our comprehension of psychological phenomena has shaped and evolved over the years to arrive at our current understanding.  

This serves as a stark reminder to eschew from regarding historical perspectives as obsolete and defunct. Understanding the shifting thinking paradigms over the years would serve as a solid foundation for a better comprehension of the present.  With a healthy appreciation for history, integrating the continuity of ideas as well as the Zeitgeist of the past, would one then be able to possess valuable insight into contemporary work.