What is “Affective Memory”?

The acting technique was abandoned by its originator, Konstantin Stanislavski, but lived on in one of his disciples, Lee Strasberg.

(by Carmichael Phillips)

(Photo by Claudia on Unsplash)

Affective memory is one of the original techniques in Konstantin Stanislavski’s “System”. Also known as “emotional recall” or “emotion memory”, it later formed one of the central elements in Method Acting, as taught by Lee Strasberg. Affective Memory calls on the actor to recall emotions the actor felt in their own lives and inject those emotions and feelings into their character, when their character faces similar circumstances.
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“The two areas of discovery that were of primary importance in my work at The Actors Studio and in my private classes were improvisation and affective memory. It is finally, by using these techniques, that the actor can express the appropriate emotions demanded of the character.”

(Lee Strasberg)

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For example, an actor’s character might have the emotion of deep, uncontrollable love toward another character in the script. This feeling, given how emotional and expressive it must be portrayed, may be difficult for an actor to produce.

To arrive at this emotion, the actor might recall the first time they fell in love with another person. Or the actor might conjure up deep attachments they had toward a family member who passed away. The actor might even recall emotions he or she had toward a pet from childhood that they loved deeply. Regardless, the actor recalls the sensation of the deep, intense love they felt in their personal lives and uses it to create emotion in their character who is living through similar circumstances.

While affective memory was created by Konstantin Stanislavski, he later abandoned the practice, believing it limited the actor’s imagination and even induced a kind of hysteria in some actors. In his later teachings he insisted that actors not dig for personal emotions and, instead, use their imaginations and physical actions to guide their character’s emotions. The technique of affective memory, however, lived on in the teachings of Lee Strasberg.

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