Participants: Blair Brown, Vittorio Gallese, Joe Grifasi, Robert Landy, Adam Ludwig (moderator), Tom Vasiliades
This roundtable will focus on the actor's craft as it relates to the phenomenon of mirror neurons. A recent discovery in the brains of primates, mirror neurons are special neurons that show activity both when a subject performs an action and when it observes the same action performed by another. Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important findings in neuroscience in the last decade, in part because they are thought to be responsible for the empathic response in humans. In particular, these neurons allow a person to empathize with someone who is having a traumatic experience. How does this adaptation come into play for an actor? Actors must draw on various sources—memory, imagination, observation—to elicit their own deep emotional responses. This emotional activity must have a level of authenticity, on a physiological and even a neurological level, in order to provoke empathy in the observer, whether it's another actor or a member of the audience. Drawing on the perspectives of neuroscience, drama therapy, kinesiology and acting technique, the discussion will address the mechanisms that allow the actor to move an audience emotionally.
Blair Brown is a graduate of the National Theater School of Canada and began her acting career as a member of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. She went on to star in Joseph Papp's production of The Threepenny Opera and the Brodway productions of The Secret Rapture, Cabaret, The Heidi Chronicles, and A Little Night Music, as well as The Comedy of Errors at the New York Shakespeare Festival. She won a Tony Award in 2000 for her work in Copenhagen. She has been featured in the films The Paper Chase, Altered States, Stealing Home, Continental Divide, The Astronaut's Wife, Dogville, The Sentinal, and The Treatment, among many others. Her extensive television credits include appearances on "Law & Order," "Smallville," "Ed," "CSI: Miami," "ER" and a four-year run as the title character on "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd".
Vittorio Gallese is Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Parma, where he teaches cardiovascular physiology and neurophysiology in the School of Medicine. He also teaches neuroscience in graduate program in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Bologna. His main research interest lies in the relationship between action perception and cognition and has published several papers about mirror neurons.
Joe Grifasi is an actor and director. He has performed on Broadway (Dinner at Eight, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Happy End, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The Play's the Thing) and in numerous Off-Broadway productions, including Boys Next Door (Drama Desk Nomination). He has appeared on stages throughout the country, including the Goodman Theater, Trinity Rep, Yale Repertory Theater and the Williamstown Theater Festival. He has been featured in over 70 films, including The Deer Hunter, Batman Forever, Matewan, Splash, Natural Born Killers, and Ironweed. He appeared most recently as Yogi Berra in the ESPN mini-series The Bronx is Burning. He is a graduate of the M.F.A. program at Yale.
Robert J. Landy is the Founder and Director of the Drama Therapy Program at New York University. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of The Arts in Psychotherapy and the author of numerous books on the subject of Drama Therapy.
Adam Ludwig is an actor and a member of the Philoctetes staff. He edits the Philoctetes website and the newsletter, Dialog. He has performed at regional theaters throughout the country, including Berkeley Rep, The Old Globe, The Pittsburgh Public, and A.C.T. He has appeared on television and in film and most recently played one of the leads in the Off-Broadway comedy Jewtopia. He has an M.F.A. in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater.
Tom Vasiliades is an internationally recognized teacher of the Alexander Technique. He is the Founder and Director of the Alexander Technique Center for Performance and Development. He is an Assistant Professor and Chair of the Movement Department at the New School for Drama. He is also on the faculties of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and The Juilliard School. He has acted on stage and in films and television. He also works as an Alexander Technique and movement coach on and off Broadway.