Leslie O'Dell


When Psychology meets Rehearsal Strategy: The Actor as Creative Artist


Creativity studies remain a vibrant sub-discipline in contemporary psychology, but the focus remains firmly on creators rather than interpreters, with a few notable exceptions (Nemiro 1997, Thomson et al 2009). As a result, anyone interested in the psychology of acting must make do with those few psychologists who turn their attention directly to the actor as performer (Neuringer and Willis 1995, Goldstein and Winner 2009, Goldstein 2009, Orzechowicz 2008, Martin and Cutler 2002, Scheiffele 2001). Many of these research findings published by research psychologists, however, remain disappointingly theoretical; direct application to rehearsal and performance can only occur when a truly inter-disciplinary study is undertaken. I have been the grateful participant in just such ongoing research. As a director, actor, and teacher of acting, I have contributed the practical theatre side while my colleague, a professor of psychology, has shaped research questions and directed me towards fascinating, even if tediously scientific, studies. Together we have explored topics such as acting gender, the ethics of directing, acting and mental health, and the typology of creative personality. In this paper, I argue for a radical revision of acting training in light of creativity studies that illuminate the psychology of acting. Drawing upon a variety of recent studies and reflections, I suggest that the wealth of insight offered by creativity studies, even if actors per se are not considered by the researchers, offers several exciting possibilities for evolution of acting teaching. Both students and faculty will benefit greatly from such an [r]evolution: students will receive greater protection from inadvertent psychological damage and, when problems arise, interventions can be more strategic; faculty will receive greater respect from academic colleagues as theatre-friendly strategies for interdisciplinary research and publication become an accepted and welcome part of their working lives.


Leslie O'Dell began her theatre career as an actor but found her true calling as a director (over 100 professional and academic productions), script writer (20 plays performed, 7 completed film scripts) and teacher of actors. After 15 seasons at the Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario, she published three books for actors: Shakespearean Scholarship, Shakespearean Language, and Shakespearean Characterization (Greenwood, 2001). She has also written course textbooks for advanced acting and directing students as well as a practical guide to acting for opera singers. Her forthcoming book, The Charismatic Chameleon, is a study of the psychology of acting. She is now working on a book-length study of the phenomenology of masks and an actor’s experience of character, based on her 20-year exploration of character masks. Leslie O’Dell is a Professor of English, Film, and Theatre at Wilfrid Laurier University, where she has taught acting, directing, play writing, film and dramatic literature at the undergraduate and graduate levels and acting for singers for Laurier’s Faculty of Music since 1983. She received her Honours B.A. in Drama from Queen’s University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama at the University of Toronto.