What is a “Sense Memory”?

By Webmaster

  • What is a “Sense Memory”?

    Armed with a sense memory, the actor’s experience is no longer rooted in fantasy. It is now real to them.

    (by Tonya Tannenbaum)

    (Photo by Aliya Jamous on Unsplash)

    Sense memory is an acting technique whereby the actor recalls the physical sensations surrounding a personal, emotional experience and uses those sensations to help trigger truthful emotional responses in their characters.

    NOTE: Sense memory can also be useful as an exercise to help an actor to believe in the “reality” of imaginary circumstances, such as experiencing the feel, smell and taste of a cup of coffee as if it were real, even though the cup in front of the actor is empty. But in this article, we will focus on sense memory as a means to spark emotional responses, for use in affective memory.

    If you’ve ever heard a familiar song and used the phrase, “this brings back memories!”, then you already understand the potential that sense memory has in unlocking emotions. The sound of the song takes your mind back to the place you were when you last heard that song. That song might remind you of a family member or a love interest. You might experience immense feelings of joy or sadness, relaxation or tension, pleasure or pain – all from listening to a song.

  • This type of emotional response can be triggered, not just with your hearing, but with all your five senses. Consider these examples of the relationship between your sensory and your feelings:

    • Sound

    The sound of footsteps coming up from behind you can bring a sensation of fear and dread, as it brings back memories of a time in your life when someone was chasing after you with bad intentions.

    • Smell

    The smell of chocolate chip cookies can remind you of the warm memories you have for your dear grandmother, who used to bake chocolate chip cookies for you.

    • Taste

    The taste of sweet lemonade can remind you of the fun times you had with your family when school was out for summer break. Conversely, the taste of peanut butter can remind you of a painful experience you had as a child, when you ate some bad peanut butter and became violently ill from food poisoning.

  • • Touch

    The feel and texture of a thick quilt can remind you of the comfort and safety you felt climbing under the covers to escape the imaginary monsters hiding under your bed, as a kid. In adulthood, you might still glean a sense of safety from that very same quilt, even though you no longer believe in the bed monsters.

    • Sight

    The sight of a menacing-looking dog can drive you into a panic, as the sight of the dog reminds you of a painful time when you were brutally attacked by a similar dog. Even though the dog poses no threat to you, the sight of the dog alone might be enough to evoke a sense of fear.

    Examples like these demonstrate the power of sensory and its effect on our feelings. Your sensory has the power to trigger all kinds of long-buried emotions, which is why sense memory can be a very useful technique when an actor needs to truthfully experience the emotions of their character. Actors can use the potency of the senses to unlock the emotions they need to draw from to deliver truthful emotional responses.

    (Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash)

    Lee Strasberg

    Lee Strasberg was one of the first acting teachers to recognize the evocative powers locked in our senses. The five senses – our sense of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – all become wed to emotional memories we carry with us for the rest of our lives.

    Strasberg sought to exploit sensory for dramatic purposes, using it to unlock the power of the acting technique known as “Emotional Recall”; also called, “Affective Memory”. By recalling the sensory stimuli surrounding an emotional experience, the actor can quickly and truthfully recall the emotion itself, and infuse that emotion into their characters.

  • Personal Object

    One way to do this, Strasberg taught, was for actors to find a personal object that had special meaning in their lives; one that evoked certain feelings and memories. The actor could use that object as a way of unlocking the emotions attached to the object.

    For example, an actress could use a piece of jewelry handed down to her from her mother, which she later wore on her wedding day. The piece of jewelry could be used as a “trigger” to release feelings about her mother, which the actress could then feed into her character’s feelings about their fictional mother.

    The only caveat was that the memories surrounding the item had to be at least seven years old. That way, the actor did not fall into uncontrollable emotional reactions to the item, due to the fact that the memories were still fresh in the actor’s mind. The idea was to use the item to produce controllable, repeatable, emotional reactions, rather than uncontrollable ones.

  • Armed with a sense memory, the actor’s experience is no longer rooted in fantasy. It is now real to them. Real emotions are being triggered. The actor can feel the emotions when they are performing in the moment, now that the moment has a heightened sense of reality.

    Recommended Posts

  • Ad

  • Why Building Relationships with Casting Directors is So Important

    Why Building Relationships with Casting Directors is So Important One of the best ways to improve your odds is to emphasize relationship-building as a core part of your strategy for success (by Carmichael…

    “You can’t rely on anyone to hand you anything in this business. Ever! So, just be creative.” (Joe Manganiello)

    “You can’t rely on anyone to hand you anything in this business. Ever! So, just be creative.” “So many times I meet people who [ask me], you know, ‘do you have any advice…

    What is the “Private Moment Exercise”?

    What is the “Private Moment Exercise”? The concentration that it takes to have a private moment in public, empowers the actor to bring a higher level of concentration to a character (by Tonya…

    Funny Feel-Facts, Part II

    Funny Feel-Facts, Part II (by Carmichael Phillips) Here are 5 more feel-facts about acting I’ve uncovered. Part 1 of my Feel-Facts series brought some laughs and inflamed some tensions, so I thought I’d…

    3 Reasons Why It Sucks to Do Student Films

    3 Reasons Why It Sucks to Do Student Films Yep. Sometimes they really do suck! (by Carmichael Phillips) Alright. Let’s light this candle! We’ve already given you the lowdown on how student films…

  • Ad

  • “No amount of failure…can dissuade a determined actor.” (Susan Saint James)

    “Through my own experiences and achievements, I have found that no amount of encouragement, help, or advice can make an unmotivated person a star, while at the same time, no amount of failure,…

    Set Aside One Day Each Week for Your Acting Business

    Set Aside One Day Each Week for Your Acting Business How setting aside an entire day can improve your acting business (by Jim Webb) The #actorslife is a hectic one. Between your survival…

    How to Turn Your Audition Trash into Audition Treasure

    How to Turn Your Audition Trash into Audition Treasure What if you used every bad audition as a kind of audition technique class? (by Carmichael Phillips) Let’s say, your recent audition was an…

  • Ad

  • What is “Type”?

    What is “Type”? An actor’s type plays an essential role in the casting process (by Tonya Tannenbaum) An actor’s “type” refers to the initial impression the average person tends to have about an…

    “The actor must constantly respond to stimuli that are imaginary.” (Lee Strasberg)

    “The human being who acts is the human being who lives. That is a terrifying circumstance. Essentially, the actor acts a fiction, a dream; in life, the stimuli to which we respond are…

    Don’t Audition Solely for the Purpose of Booking the Role

    Don’t Audition Solely for the Purpose of Booking the Role Always act in truth. (By Jim Webb) You are behind on your bills. You’re facing money shortages. You’re not entirely sure how you’ll…

    5 Good Reasons to Do Student Films

    5 Good Reasons to Do Student Films There are many actors who can cite chapter and verse their negative experiences doing student films. They can be a bit of a mixed bag. But…

    “If you want to be an actor…that has nothing to do with Hollywood.” (William H. Macy)

    “It’s one thing to become a better actor, it’s another thing to want to be somebody, or to want to be a star, or to get recognition. If you want to be an…

  • Ad

  • What is a “Student Film”?

    What is a “Student Film”? It is the making of the film itself, rather than the content of the film, that usually provides the educational value (by Tonya Tannenbaum) A “student film”, as…

    “This is a business of rejection.” (Bill Duke)

    “There’s a difference between waiting to be discovered by someone and discovering yourself. Waiting to be discovered and discovering yourself is a different consciousness.” (Bill Duke) Duke went on to explain: “This is…

    3 Reasons Your Audition Ended Quickly

    3 Reasons Your Audition Ended Quickly The speediness of the audition may have nothing at all to do with the actor’s performance in the audition room (by Jim Webb) That sinking feeling you…

  • Ad

  • 5 Basic Facts about Lee Strasberg

    5 Basic Facts about Lee Strasberg Here are some basic facts about the life and career of Mr. Lee Strasberg (by Jim Webb) Lee Strasberg was one of the most influential acting teachers…

    “I think it’s important to stand out and make bold decisions.” (Dacre Montgomery)

    “I think it’s important (for actors) to stand out and make bold decisions. And I think that, there’s not enough people in the world that encourage that for artists. And I think for…

    5 Funny Feel-Facts About Acting

    5 Funny Feel-Facts About the Business of Acting They’re not necessarily true for all actors. You can argue that they’re not true at all. But they feel good to say, so I said…

    3 Minor Violations to Avoid on Your Acting Résumé

    3 Minor Violations to Avoid on Your Acting Résumé When it comes to an actor’s résumé, there are differing levels of crime that an actor can commit. Here are 3 Minor Violations. (by…

    “If you get good enough, all that other stuff will take care of itself.” (Ed Harris)

    “I would just say, if this is something you’re pursuing as an actor… It’s one thing to learn about acting, it’s one thing to become a better actor, it’s another thing to want…

  • Ad

  • What are “Profiles”?

    What are “Profiles”? Profiles give casting a more complete picture of how the actor looks when performing on-camera (by Tonya Tannenbaum) Profiles are a request for additional information about an actor’s appearance, particularly…

    You’re Not Really Acting When You’re Over-Acting

    You’re not really acting when you’re over-acting It’s amateurish and does a disservice to the script, your fellow actors and to the audience. (by Jim Webb) It’s understandable for aspiring actors to want…

    “Don’t become an actor, unless you HAVE to.” (Mandy Patinkin)

    “Don’t become an actor, unless you HAVE to.” (Mandy Patinkin) Here’s the best thing I ever heard about acting, that my wife said: “Don’t do it (become an actor), unless you have to.”…

  • Ad

  • Today’s Rundown

    TODAY’S RUNDOWN Thought of the day: Thinking of quitting your acting career? Hang in there! You don’t have to have all the answers today. You only have to survive the day. #actorslife  …

    What is a “Sense Memory”?

    What is a “Sense Memory”? Armed with a sense memory, the actor’s experience is no longer rooted in fantasy. It is now real to them. (by Tonya Tannenbaum) Sense memory is an acting…

    Booking Commercials: Talent, Looks or Luck?

    Booking Commercials: Talent, Looks or Luck? What does it take for an actor to be successful in commercials? (by Carmichael Phillips) What does it take for an actor to be successful in commercials?…

    What are “Notes, Adjustments and Redirects”?

    What are “Notes, Adjustments and Redirects”? Regardless of what one might call them, these changes are usually necessary for a thorough evaluation of the actor’s fitness for the role being cast (By Tonya…

    Never Apologize When You Make a Mistake During an Audition

    Never Apologize When You Make a Mistake During an Audition Don’t apologize during an audition. Ever. If you stumble over your words or make a mistake, simply correct it. Confidently. (by Carmichael Phillips)…

    Never Do This on Your Acting Résumé!

      Never Do This on Your Acting Résumé! This is a brief “NEVER and WTF Were You Thinking!” list (By Carmichael Phillips) Sometimes there are “Should and Shouldn’t” lists. Sometimes there are “Do…

    5 General Rules for Demo Reels

      5 General Rules for Demo Reels Before you get knee-deep into this endeavor, there are a few general rules you should consider. (By Jim Webb) Are you putting your first demo reel…

    Before You Approach an Agent, Get Your S@#t Together!

    Before You Approach an Agent, Get Your S@#t Together! Before you approach an agent, make sure that you are ready to present yourself as an actor who understands the business and understands what…