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Psychological Skills in Acting

Acting and Psychology

In the last 10 years, the principles and practices of sports psychology have begun to be applied beyond sports, extending to other performance domains. Studies conducted in the fields of classical music, modern dance, ballet, theater, and cinema to enhance performance have primarily remained at the level of individual performance arts. While their effectiveness has been observed, the number and scope of research conducted in other performance domains are quite limited compared to sports psychology. As part of the 'performance enhancement with actors' project we have been conducting as Psikoloji İstanbul for some time now, we realized the limited scope of studies with actors. Before embarking on performance enhancement work, we recognized the necessity of identifying the psychological skills/strategies used by actors. Before presenting our own results, I will attempt to summarize foreign research in a series of articles. The first of these is a study conducted by Tim Murphy in 2006: 'Mental Strategies of Professional Actors'...

"Imagine it's the gala night of a Broadway play. The young actor in the lead role is taking the stage for the first time. In the audience, there are newspaper critics, producers, talent scouts, family, friends - the most important night of their career. How could the actor have prepared mentally for this moment? What is the actor primarily focused on as they step onto the stage? What thoughts are running through their mind at that moment? How do they deal with possible negative thoughts and details that could distract their attention? What should they focus on to deliver their best performance? What do they need for their best performance?" The researcher begins his article with these questions...

The studies and research in sports psychology are essentially built upon these questions, which are also prevalent in other performance domains. In recent years, studies with professionals from other performance fields (musicians, surgeons, dancers, and even managers) have aimed to shed light on similar questions.

According to the results obtained in the research conducted by Murphy (2006) and the mental strategies used by actors, they can be summarized as follows:

Character Preparation

"If you are not ready, you cannot listen. Without listening, you cannot be on stage." The character preparation process is defined as an actor's process of getting to know and identify with the character. Actors follow different processes and use different strategies to understand and empathize with the character. Character preparation can be broadly divided into:

(i) Internal preparation – an actor's internal understanding of the character (independent of the director or past performances), using intuition and creativity (intuitively determining the character's voice, posture, etc.), establishing a connection with the character (identifying with the character based on their own experiences), and respecting the character (getting to know the character and accepting them as they are).

(ii) External preparation – conducting research (going beyond what the play offers, reading comments about the character, period analysis, studying past performances) and creating a character history.

Focus During Performance

The ability to focus on stage is of critical importance for actors. They learn to control distractions backstage and focus on their characters. Insufficient focus in any of these areas is seen as a performance obstacle. Actors typically focus on the following areas:

(i) Focusing on the other actors during the performance.

(ii) Focusing on the play itself during the performance.

(iii) Preventing possible distractions during the performance.

Pre-Performance Routines

Among the psychological strategies and techniques used, pre-performance routines are essential for actors. Generally mentioned routines include:

(i) Focusing on becoming the character (costume, makeup, lines, nuances).

(ii) Preparing for the performance (physical preparation, warm-up exercises, relaxation, following the same routine, etc.).

Mental Visualization

According to the results of the research, actors use mental visualization techniques, especially during rehearsals and character preparation. Mental visualization can be defined as mentally envisioning the role, using all senses to imagine the character's behavior, emotional state, and interactions within the scene.


All actors in the study considered self-confidence as one of the key factors for high performance. Building and enhancing self-confidence is seen as crucial for actors. Strategies used to build self-confidence include:

(i) Giving oneself positive affirmations.

(ii) Acting confidently.

Murphy, T., & Orlick T. (2006). Mental Strategies of Professional Actors. Journal of Excellence, 11, 103-125."

This article was written by Filiz Kaya Ataklı in 2009 and published in various platforms.

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