ACTING TECHNIQUE | Dreamwork 

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  • ACTING TECHNIQUE 

    Dreamwork 

    Using your dreams to develop your characters 

    (By Jim Webb)


    (Photo: Pixabay | Pexels)

    You already know the importance of getting a good night’s rest. It affects your health. It affects your mood. It can even affect your overall acting life.

    But did you know that you can use it to help develop your characters, as well? In the same way actors use techniques like Affective Memory and Substitution to connect to their roles, you can also use your dreams.

  • The technique is widely known as dreamwork. It is becoming an increasingly popular tool for actors to incorporate into their craft.

    Born out of Method Acting and brought to the forefront by authors like M.I.T. theatre professor Janet Sonenberg, dreamwork taps into an actor’s unconscious mind in the form of dreams, to experience the life of the character. The result can be a deep, truthful performance for the actor who uses it effectively.


    When you’re hooking into your unconscious or working on a dream, you’re connected in a real way that you are not manufacturing or trying to force.

    (Kate Walsh)


    Dreamwork was inspired by the theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung believed that dreams were the unconscious mind’s way of communicating with the conscious mind.

  • Consequently, Dreamwork differs from Method Acting in that it doesn’t rely on already-lived experiences to evoke emotion. Instead, it draws on the explosive imagination that can come from a dream or a dreamlike state.


    (Photo: Bruce Mars/ Unsplash)

    As an example, an actor could begin by rigorously studying their script. Then, as Janet Sonenberg describes in her book, Dreamwork for Actors, the actor can create “incubation images” – visions of their character and their character’s interaction with the given circumstances – before going to bed.

    After fixating on these visions, the actor can doze off, allowing their imagination to take over and run wild with those images. The actor can go back through the resulting images the next day, ideally with the assistance of a “dreamworker”, as they shape their characters.

    The technique of dreamwork has been gaining wider and wider acceptance in the field of acting. It’s been embraced by acting schools like the Actors Studio and famous actors like Kate Walsh and Meg Ryan.


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