A recurring theme in my work, as well as an issue I often find myself tackling in daily life, is the formation of memory. As an event takes place, I often find myself recalling images or expressions from similar past events. The remembering of those images becomes a part of the current event taking place, and becomes fused with the memory of this new event. My memories often become jumbled messes of images and feelings rather than clearly defined narrative actions. And in recalling a memory, I often end up recalling not only the images from that one event, but also the images from past events that have become fused with the memory of the more recent event. This process of incorrectly recalling my memories of the past and forming new memories that are inherently fused with the events of the past is directly related to my artistic drive - my need to understand how the world works, how past theatrical events inform the present, and how I can relate to current theatrical practices by challenging my memory of the past.
Dr. Karim Nader, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, has spent the past decade or so investigating the formation of memory from a neuroscientific standpoint. Essentially, the current accepted scientific view suggests that ...
Nader's work seeks to challenge this stance.
Nader believes in a process of reconsolidation. His research suggests that the filing away of an old memory after it's been recalled is achieved by the same building up of proteins as when a new memory is first recorded. Therefore each time a memory is recalled, we're able to alter the memory and replace it with a new memory - the memory of that memory. By simply remembering an event, we're subjecting that memory to a series of transformations that occur in the act of recalling the event and subconsciously comparing it to similar accounts of that event. While this may seem obvious from a psychological standpoint, Nader's work is quite radical in that it challenges scientific beliefs that have been largely unchallenged for decades - namely, that once a memory has been consolidated, it can never be neurologically reconsolidated.
I'm particularly curious as to how Nader's research can be applied to performance, and the repercussions of such an application. Performance is often, on some level, the product of some form of memorization. Performers are often tasked with remembering a certain set of actions - lines of dialogue, phrases of movement, series of behaviors - that coincide with an established series of design choices. These actions are performed repeatedly; the performers involved are continually charged with the task of recalling their own memories of an artist's particular blueprints for the specific performance in play. And in Western theatrical practices, especially the Method acting styles applied to the American dramas of the 1940s onward, so much emphasis is placed on convincingly portraying a character and executing a playwright's dialogue as though it were truly happening for the very first time. Actors are expected to "become" their characters and trick themselves into "forgetting" the work that went into crafting their performances in order to trick the audience into believing that something unexpected and unrehearsed is really occurring onstage before them in real time.
But Nader is suggesting that regardless of your methodology - despite whatever process you may be utilizing to present a memorized performance - your actions really are occurring for the very first time, at least from a neuroscientific standpoint. By recalling the consolidated memory of your performance - the dialogue, the staging, the choreography - you are exposing that action to a potential process of reconsolidation. By enacting the memory, you are effectively replacing the original memory with the latest version of the original action. The performer and the audience member equally experience something neurologically unique each and every time the performance takes place.
And if artists were made aware of this process of reconsolidation before beginning to craft a performance piece through their individual practice, I then wonder how memory could be used to challenge established methodologies of performance? What does this process of reconsolidation look and sound like onstage? How does it affect the writing of a performance piece? The direction? The design? How does it affect the repetition of the piece over a prolonged period of time? There is, seemingly, a direct link between Nader's research and the performance of memory. I'm deeply interested and invested in the consolidation of that link through my own practice of performance.