by Jason Bennett, revised May, 2007
The Jason Bennett Actors Studio is one of the few professional actor training schools in the world where you can receive comprehensive training in this work. Although Jason Bennett presents this material in a unique way, the underlying concepts are found in most all the traditional acting methods, often going by different names.
Using Archetype Work:
• You can rapidly access specific physical, vocal and emotional states-of-being -- from a calculating, sex-crazed, killer -- to a playful, extremely sensitive child the next.
• You will explore a diverse library of "characters" for use in your work with different ages, philosophies, emotional realities, voices and body language.
• You will "connect" with all kinds of new characters and understand their relationships on entirely new levels. This means you may be castable in many more roles and your work will be more dimensional and unpredictable.
Archetype: An archetype is a basic "unit" of the human psyche. Archetypes are universal "ways of being" or looking at the world programmed into your psyche. There are dozens of archetypes that make-up your personality. Archetypes have very unique thoughts, values, abilities, emotions, voices, energies and physicalizations. The internal manifestation of archetypes are images and fantasies. As an adult, you are able to access many kinds of archetypes, but many you have deeply repressed since childhood.
Archetype Facilitation: An Archetype Facilitation is the process of directly accessing archetypes in you -- including the ones you have repressed -- so you can use them for your acting. The more you do this, the more you develop a library of "character traits" for use in your work. But they are not "characters," they are real parts of your psyche.
Ever hear of multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative identity disorder?
The fact is everyone has multiple personalities, or parts of their psyche. The disorder usually occurs in people who have suffered terrible and repeated abuse at a very young age.
As a result, their personality fragments into various parts (subpersonalities) who do not know about each other. They do this to survive the abuse they are unable to physically escape, by "escaping" into different parts of their psyche. While they are being abused, they are in one subpersonality who knows about and experiences the abuse. When they are not being abused, they are in other subpersonalities that don't even know the person has been abused.
When you understand this "disorder" this way, you see that the mind is capable of remarkable adaptations to cope with terrible life circumstances.
All "normal" people experience varying degrees of personality fragmentation -- it's a normal part of development. Actors take advantage of this, often without consciously realizing it, to craft characterizations and shape a story.
As you grow up, some archetypes are validated by your experiences in life and others are rejected and repressed. The ones that are validated and rewarded by your environment eventually become your basic personality. These "primary selves" or subpersonalities are how most people experience you when they meet you.
For example, as you grew up, you may have been rewarded for smiling a lot and thinking very scientifically. As an adult, you have a "primary self" that is a happy smiler, and a primary self that is rational. This would be part of how you would describe yourself -- "I'm happy and like to use my brain." Or maybe you were raised to be extremely religious, humble and against any kind of sex for pleasure. You would describe yourself in another way.
But consider this, in both these examples another set of parents might have rewarded the exact opposite archetypes in you as you grew up!
Many people walk around thinking they simply are who they are, "that's just who I am," not consciously aware that their psyche contains the archetypal potential to be any kind of person --- and that who they think they are is in large part a result of habit, reward and punishment. We might say they are asleep, or unconscious of, most of who they have the potential to be!
Actors not only know about the fact that we are more than who we think we are, great actors Master the ability to choose who to be.
So, for every primary archetype you have easy access to, there is an equally powerful opposite archetype that you have disowned meaning you no longer have access to that way of perceiving and experiencing the world. You are less conscious of, or completely unaware of, archetypes you disown. In the extreme, archetypes you totally disown are personality traits you literally can't even imagine having. But your disowned archetypes never go away. In fact, your disowned archetypes present themselves to you in your dreams while you sleep.
To illustrate how this primary/disowning process occurs, consider this: Susan is cold, detached and quite the perfectionist workaholic. She has access to archetypes that are logical, perfectionistic and impersonal. These are her primary selves.
Buried in Susan's unconscious are real and alive opposite ways of being -- warm, personal, empathic archetypes, a beach-bum archetype, an intuitive archetype, and archetypes that are intensely vulnerable. These are Susan's disowned selves. If Susan were an actor, it would likely be very difficult for Susan to play a character that was anything like her disowned selves.
This primary/disowning process takes place in us our whole lives, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. To some extent, our personalities re-align continually as we encounter changing real life circumstances. But an actor needs to have the archetypal freedom to intuitively re-align their psyche based on imaginary circumstances, not just real ones. This is one of the primary ingredients of talent and is a primary goal of professional actor training.
Reclaiming the Disowned Parts of You for Your Acting
Archetype Work helps you develop consciousness of, and access to, the vast world of archetypes in you -- instead of being powerless over and unaware of this process, like most people live their entire lives. It allows you to reclaim the archetypes you have disowned, so they are available to "bubble up" when you act. Archetype Work can solve many acting problems traditional acting methods can't, liberating you from blocks and allowing you to access new kinds of "characters" and "points of view" that you didn't think you were capable of or could even imagine.
Archetype Work is not therapy. A facilitator helps introduce you to the archetypes in you, "interviewing" them and exploring with you how they manifest.
As you do this work, you will begin to understand that the causes of dramatic conflict in the characters you play can be traced back to characters in opposite archetypes from one another. The following "psychological axioms" have amazing ramifications for script analysis:
Each person you hate or judge is mirroring for you the "bad side" of the archetypes you disown. Conversely, the people you are highly attracted to or feel inadequate around also manifest your disowned archetypes they are mirroring for you the "good side" of the archetypes you disown.
Here is a helpful little secret about life: you attract people into your life who manifest your disowned archetypes over and over. The universe has a funny way of doing that. Because these kinds of interactions trigger intense vulnerability, these relationships either go extremely well or extremely poorly. But when disowned archetypes are involved, they are always memorable and energetically charged!
Opposites really do attract in life, and sometimes result in cataclysmic archetypal battles. Archetypal opposites, and the associated vulnerability, are what cause all dramatic conflict. Think about Stanley and Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, or Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple. Think about any conflict in your life - either internally or between you and someone else. It arises from competing opposite impulses, or archetypes. Think about the current clash between the West and Islam, what opposite archetypes and impulses play a role in this global conflict?
Archetype Work and the Psychology of Selves are powerful "plug-ins" to any kind of acting process. This tool does not result in you being focused on yourself and your feelings while acting. Rather, Archetype Work is a tool to effortlessly access more of you in your life many more "points of view" so that in the imaginary circumstances of the play you are free to relate to the other actors and pursue your actions/objectives from an internal reality specific and "truthful" to the "character" you are playing.
And we are absolutely not suggesting that you can develop characters by simply doing this work. Acting is much more complicated than an archetype analysis or this Archetype Work. Again, this work is a "plug-in" to the traditional acting methods we teach.
But on the other hand, your acting cannot succeed unless, going into a role, you have intuitive access to a whole range of archetypes. That part is not negotiable, no matter what acting methods you use.
Developing an Awareness of Archetypes
Below are some examples of universal archetypes within your psyche. These archetypes can be easily available to you or lie deeply disowned in your unconscious but they are there. You can think of these archetypes as generic, but powerful traits of a multi-dimensional character. Characters are unique combinations of many archetypes shaped by their unique life experiences, just like people in real life.
These groups of archetypes overlap. These archetypes do not fit into nice categories and are not literally people living in your head. But these labels are useful in terms of helping you to develop awareness of what is going on inside you and for your use as an actor:
The power selves: The protector. The warrior. The killer. The leader. The aristocrat. The boss. The star. The rational mind. The survivor. The optimist. The rebel. The patriarch. The Joker. The manipulator. The liar. The sadist. The judge. The matriarch. The hero. The messiah. The old soul The special self. The traditionalist. The "I'm God" self. The exercise self. Sexuality. Joy. The partier. The victim. The controller.
The vulnerable and child selves: The vulnerable child (the core of who you are). The magical child. The silly/playful child. The lonely child. The insecure child. The lover. The playful child. The abandoned child. The hopeless child. The sad child. The victim. The shy/embarrassed child. The silly/goofy child. The rebellious child. Spontaneous. What will people think self?
The parent selves: Good father. Negative father. Critical father. Good mother. Critical mother. Negative mother. Nurturing mother or father. The controlling mother or father. Withdrawn mother or father. Responsible mother or father. Tyrannical mother or father. Punishing mother or father. The psychological mother or father.
The being selves: The Beach bum. The new age self. The transcendent. The old soul. The Meditator. The Relaxation self. The "who cares"/irresponsible self. The slob. The "just want to escape" self. Sensuality.
The personal selves: The pleaser. The lover. The feminine selves. The "bleeding heart" self. The empathic self. Most of the children selves. The submitter. The Joker.
The impersonal selves: The rational/logical selves. The power selves. The "who cares" self. The judge. Masculine selves. The rebel. The finance self. The killer. The messianic doctor.
The inner critic: a very powerful self in most of us, always criticizing us whenever we don't follow the rules of all the other selves.
The perfectionist: a very powerful self in most of us in Western culture.
The pusher: a mega-doing self, very large in the United States. The self that says "let's go, do this, do that, do more, do more."
There are many, many more. Can you think of some of your own?
Most any self can be sexual. Some of us disown our sexual instincts, while some of us are very identified with our sexual impulses and are trashy sluts.
That was a joke.
And by the way, jokes are usually your disowned archetypes expressing themselves in a socially acceptable way. For instance in the above joke, there is a moralistic archetype in me that believes that sleeping with many people is an awful thing to do. Can you see how that archetype was expressed in the joke?
Characterization and The Archetype Spectrum
Although it is wonderful, using Archetype Work to craft characters once you have already gotten a role is not the only or perhaps even the best use of this work.
Archetype Work is even more useful practiced regularly as "instrumental actor preparation" because you will develop easy access to the extremely diverse archetypes (characters) in you for use in your acting. Access to the depths of who you really are is thought to be vital by most Master acting teachers.
You will probably not be cast in a role if the character you are auditioning for is comprised of archetypes you actively disown. If you cannot access the archetypes in you that are needed for that "character," you will feel no connection to the "character" and you will not see their "point of view." You will have no real "impulse" for the role and your audition will not work.
The more archetypes you have access to, the more castable you will be in all kinds of roles. This is a major part of what "character acting" is all about, having the ability to alter your archetype structure.
The below is an example of how this work might plug-in to your acting process. Please note: WE ARE NOT SUGGESTING THIS IS AN ENTIRE APPROACH TO ACTING. It is not our entire approach to acting. The below sequence is meant to compliment an already developed, traditional acting process.
1. Read the play.
2. Read the play many, many more times. Nothing is more effective than letting your unconscious/imagination create a fantasy world as you read the play over and over. You don't have to "do" anything in this phase, the play is doing your unconscious.
3. Plug-in your own traditional acting tools. Use your process (assuming you have one at this point).
4. Create your character's archetype structure.
How many adjectives can you think of to describe her personality? Let's pretend she is: detached from vulnerable feelings, authoritarian, believes in tradition, believes in spanking, always votes Republican, is a stay-at-home mom who goes to Republican country clubs and political fundraisers. She wears fur, she has sex with her husband only in missionary position and frankly hates sex and any other physical intimacy. She goes to church every week and believes strongly in an angry, vengeful God. Her husband is a very powerful corporate lawyer with Enron, but when he is around her, she runs him like a dictator. He seems like a child around her. He probably hires young hookers (female? let's face it, probably male) to satisfy his instinctual archetypes since he can't get any satisfaction from her.
5. Decide which archetypes will help you identify with (or "be") this character.
Here are some possibilities of her primary self system, and thus the archetypes in you you must have access to: The Patriarch (yes, even though she's a woman), traditionalist, controlling mother, analytical mind self, the pleaser, a primary self which hates sex (was she raped?), religious zealot self. So these archetypes could represent her primary archetype structure. And if the play is well written, chances are the opposites of these primary selves (the disowned selves) emerge in her behavior and words throughout the playthat is what makes for interesting, multi-dimensional performances.
So the next step would be to determine the archetypes she disowns, perhaps they are: Vulnerable Child, Sexuality/Dionysus, Needy Child, Helpless Child, Rebellious Child, Beach bum, Compassionate mother, Playful Child, Being self.
Throughout the play, her disowned selves will be in conflict with her primary selves. And her entire self-system will be conflicting and/or bonding with the archetypes of all the other characters she meets.
Plays are essentially always about internal archetype conflicts and/or the conflicts between the archetypes of one person with another because that is what life is about.
This is all very simplified for the purpose of introducing you to this work in this article and may be a little confusing at this point for you that's ok, it takes awhile to get the hang of it. There is much more to learn about these archetype bonding patterns and struggles.
6. Do Archetype Work to experience the disowned archetypes within you that you need for this role.
You must embrace these disowned archetypes because if you do not have access to the archetypes of the character you are playing, you are going to have a very difficult time being "truthful" in the role.
There are a great number of ways to access different archetypes on the job, without having a facilitator present. You will learn these techniques in the acting classes and at the Archetype Workshops.
The Character's Relationships and Dreams
The Psychology of Selves, which is the modern system of psychology Archetype Work arises from, is an in-depth explanation of the dynamics of human relationships and personality development. Check out the books, Embracing Our Selves and Embracing Each Other, by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone. The work of these psychologists has profound implications for acting. All the Master acting teachers of the last century had relationships with the psychologists of their time.
In the Archetype Intensive, you will learn about relationship bonding patterns, the predictable ways your archetypes bond to the archetypes in others. Opposites do attract. And these rather predictable bonding patterns play a powerful role in determining our experience of life.
Character Relationships (and life relationships) can be seen as an elaborate dance of archetypes your archetypes with the archetypes of those you interact with. Learning specifically how and why this works will cause you to realize more depth and "truth" in your imaginary character relationships.
A brief note on dreams: Dreams are a direct path into your unconscious world of images, thoughts, memories, feelings and associations -- and this is where 98% of your talent is. Your disowned archetypes speak to you in your dreams even if they are deeply repressed. Start paying attention to your dreams -- write them down.
Dreams can be harnessed for use in your acting in profound ways. Read the article "Using Dreams for Your Acting." We work with dreams in the advanced workshops taught by our diverse faculty. The results can be amazing.
You can call 212-777-7603 to speak with Jason Bennett about acting, or to have an initial phone interview.