International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis

ISSN: 0020-7144 (Print) 1744-5183 (Online) Journal homepage:

Hypnosis and Drama: A Note on a Novel Use of Self-Hypnosis H. Laurence Shaw To cite this article: H. Laurence Shaw (1978) Hypnosis and Drama: A Note on a Novel Use of Self-Hypnosis, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 26:3, 154-157, DOI: 10.1080/00207147808409316 To link to this article:

Published online: 31 Jan 2008.

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Date: 13 October 2015, At: 10:25

The lnfernofronalJoumd of Cllnlrol und ErpcrunenlolHypnonw 1978, Vol. XXVI, No. 3. 154-157


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Surbiton, Surrey, England

Abstract: Self-hypnosis was taught as part of the curriculum of an acting school. Scenes were subsequently acted both with and without prior hypnotic induction. Enhanced authenticity of character portrayal was reported by actors and audience.

The histrionic quality associated with some hypnotic behavior has long been recognized. Similarly, the ability of the hypnotized individual to compellingly relive past events or assume a wide range of suggested roles is often taken advantage of by the stage hypnotist. In recent years, Sarbin (1976) has applied the framework of his role theory to an understanding of hypnosis and has focused on the dramaturgical perspective of this phenomenon. Further, he and his students have shown that a strong, positive correlation exists between acting ability and hypnotizability as measured by standard scales. In addition to these interesting relationships, one can hardly read the work of Stanislavsky or of some of the method actors without being impressed by the close relationship between hypnosis role-involvement and how some actors go about becoming the role they seek to portray. In view of some of the similarities between various aspects of hypnosis and of acting, it seemed reasonable to consider a request by an acting school to train students in self-hypnosis in order to facilitate their acting ability. This note is intended to describe this effort in the hope of encouraging others to explore what appears to be a fruitful application of hypnotic techniques. The East 15 acting school is part of the original London Theatre Workshop. It was founded in 1961 and is one of the 13 acting schools in England approved by the Department of Education and sponsored by the Arts Council. Students attend a 3-year course during which active exploration of unusual skills which may conceivably aid the acquisition of character composition is encouraged. At the school's request, 12 final year students were taught selfhypnosis in three group sessions,each lasting about 1.5 hours. During these sessions, two methods of induction were taught progressive Manuscript submitted March 26, 1977; finalrevision received June 9, 1977. ' Reprint requests should be addressed to H. Laurence Shaw, 54 Berrylands,Surbiton, Surrey KTS MU, England. 1 54

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relaxation and fantasy. The progressive relaxation method entailed concentration by the student on his own body while repeated and sequential suggestions of increasing and spreading heaviness followed by warmth were made by the present author-therapist. This group session was taped and each student given a copy of the tape with instructions to play it three times daily until the next session 1 week later. At this second session, group hypnosis was again induced, this time by the fantasy method. This method involved deep breathing combined with a description of a soothing scene which contained multiple rhythmic conceptualizations (i.e., the imagined sound and sight of waves, the swaying of a hammock, etc.). The session was again taped and individual tapes distributed to the students, to be played three times daily for a further week. At the third session, the students were instructed to select whichever of the two tapes they preferred and to induce self-hypnosis by going through the sequence themselves. The taped sessions did not last longer than 20 minutes; the remainder of the three sessions were devoted to explanation and discussion of the methods to be used. During the fourth session, the students were divided into pairs and acted a short scene, first in hypnosis and again in the normal wake state after a break to remove any residual hypnotic effects. The fifth session was a performance on the stage with nine students divided into three pairs and a trio, each group again acting one scene in hypnosis and one in the normal wake state in front of an audience of fellow students, directors, and laymen. During this session, the hypnosis and nonhypnosis sequences were arranged randomly and the audience was not informed as to the order. Induction of self-hypnosis was successfully reported by all the students who were all able to act within their subjective definition of hypnosis. The students stated that successful identification with the portrayed character was achieved; the effect being similar to ‘improvisation drama, except that the same effect that would normally take several hours or even days to achieve occurred within 10 minutes using the self-hypnotic techniques. Tension, which was normally revealed by awkward movements, licking of the lips, or poor voice control, was markedly reduced in the self-hypnotic scenes. Affect was heightened and inhibitions were lessened. Several students reported “thinking” as the character would, even when off stage during a scene. These students mentioned that only a fragment of their minds seemed to attend to the technical problems of acting, the remainder being occupied by the thoughts of the portrayed character. This was an uncharacteristic reponse of these students on stage. For example, one student,

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who acted a drunkard, felt strongly nauseated and, during termination of hypnosis, curled up into a ball on the floor instead of taking his usual position of lying straight on his back. Although no strict criteria were adopted, the audience seemed able to distinguish between scenes acted by students in hypnosis from scenes performed by students in the normal wake state. Generally, the audience preferred the “hypnotic scenes” because they appeared more vital and authentic. Common criticisms of the hypnotic performances, however, were poor enunciation and apparent lack of concern for the audience. This novel use of self-hypnosis2originated in the author’s response to the request for practical help in an unknown area and appeared to achieve its objectives of students’ increased ability to enter a role, with removal of the inhibitory factors of self-awareness. These results may indicate a use for self-hypnosis in training actors, particularly in work involving close-up views, such as television or film.The actors seemed to experience their role portrayal in hypnosis and the normal wake state in a Werent way. Perhaps the self-knowledgethat they were “in hypnosis“ permitted them to act in a less inhibited and perhaps less attentive way. While the experience seemed to suggest that self-hypnosis may be useful to actors, only time will tell whether this technique will be more generally adopted for training purposes. Certainly it seems likely that, after some experience with self-hypnosis, actors may learn to incorporate aspects of their experience into their acting without, perhaps, the need to induce in themselves a formal, self-hypnotic experience. It also seems likely that, ultimately, the distinction of where acting begins and self-hypnosis ends will become progressively vague to these individuals and that their experience with hypnosis may serve to facilitate their becoming able to utilize aspects of themselves not previously available. Certainly, considerably more clinical experience and systematic efforts will be needed to adequately evaluate what role, if any, hypnosis should have in the training of aspiring actors. It is hoped that sharing my experience may encourage others to expiore this potential application of hypnosis.

REFERENCE SARBIN, T. R. Hypnosis: The dramaturgical perspective. In J. P. Brady (Chm.), On the

nature of hypnosis: Role, state, or antecedent events? Symposium presented at the 28th annual meeting of the Society for Clinical and Experimental H ~ ~ R o sPhila~s, delphia, June 1976,

* Requests for specific information relating to this technique can be obtained from the author.



Hypnose und Drama: Eine Notiz uber eine neuartige Anwendung der Selbsthypnose H. Laurence Shaw

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Abstrakt: Als ein Teil des Kvrikulums m v d e Selbsthypnose in einer Schauspielakademie gelehrt. Danach wurden Szenen mit sowie ohne vorhergegangener Hypnoseinduktion gespielt. Die Schauspieler wie das Publikum berichteten von einer iiberzeugenderenAuthentizitat bei der Darstellung der Charaktere.

L’hypnose et le theatre: note sur une nouvelle application de I’auto-hypnose

H.Laurence Shaw &sume: L’auto-hypnose fut enseignee dans le cadre du programme d’etudes d’une ecole de theatre. Par la suite, les acteurs ont joue des scenes, avec ou sans induction hypnotique prealable. Les acteurs et les spectateurs ont note une plus grande authenticitk dans la representation des personnages.

La hipnosis y el teatro: nota eobre una nueva applicacion de la auto-hipnosis H. Laurence Shaw Resumen: Se ha ensenado la auto-hipnosis como parte integra del programa de estudios en una escuela de teatro. Despues. 10s actores han rapresentado escenas con o sin sugestiones hipnoticas, a priori. Actores y espectadores han confirmado UII m i s alto nivel de autencidad de rapresentacion de 10s personajes.

Hypnosis and drama: a note on a novel use of self-hypnosis.

International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis ISSN: 0020-7144 (Print) 1744-5183 (Online) Journal homepage:
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