Original Research Update: Interview with Dave Dalton (Scheduled)

Dave Dalton, a professor at UVA in the Department of Drama

On 12/15/2020 at 7:00 AM, I sent my first corresponding email to Mr. Dalton. It read as follows:

“Dear Mr. Dalton,

I am William Bradford, a high school student at Renaissance School in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I am conducting my Senior Thesis research on performance psychology.

Given your expansive list of previous works in theater, I believe that you have unique insight into the process of working with performers. Because of your unique take on performance, I would like to ask you a few questions.

Would you be open to an online interview sometime between now and January 6th or 7th? I am typically available on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 12:00 and 6:00 PM EST, but I would be glad to accommodate your schedule.

I am certain you are busy, so if scheduling a call does not work for you, I have attached questions below, in case you may have the opportunity to answer via email instead.

Thank you so much for your kind consideration,
With my highest regards,
William Bradford

1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at UVA? Have you been able to arrange any modified performances? Did they inspire the same pre-performance emotions as before the pandemic?

2. Have you ever worked with performers using emotion-based performance analysis tools? If not, how do you recommend identifying and maintaining an emotional state that is conducive to peak performance?

3. Performing athletes commonly use mental tools such as positive self-talk to help remain in an optimal state of emotion during performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with performance anxiety during performances and why?

4. Do you have any specific pre-performance routines that you use or that you instruct your students to use?

5. Flow is essentially the feeling of complete immersion in a performance. Is there any specific way that you can recall accessing this feeling, or is out of your control? If it is out of your control, do you feel that you can influence it with proper preparation?

6. Overtraining is a common phenomenon in sports training today. Its symptoms include long-term mood alterations and decreased physical performance in sports. Have you found that training for a performance too much can elicit these symptoms as well? Is there anything in specific that you do to mitigate this effect?”

On the same day, at 10:48 AM, he responded and agreed to an interview at 1:00 PM on January 7th. He had a few further questions for me, which he included in his response email:

“William,

Sounds interesting. I could meet with you on Thursday the 7th at 1pm, if that works for you.

I’ve added some follow-up responses to your questions below. If you can give me some further detail, it would help me to know how to respond when we talk.

Also, if you’re interested in emotion and acting, I’d recommend this book: https://www.routledge.com/Embodied-Acting-What-Neuroscience-Tells-Us-About-Performance/Kemp/p/book/9780415507882

In the book Kemp, summarizes what neuroscience has discovered about emotion and recommends connections to existing acting traditions and training.

Best,

Dave Dalton
Assistant Professor, Directing

Department of Drama 

University of Virginia

From: William Bradford <wbradford@renaissanceschool.org>
Date: Tuesday, December 15, 2020 at 7:01 AM
To: “Dalton, Dave (dnd8b)” <dnd8b@virginia.edu>
Subject: Student Requesting Interview on Theatrical Performance

1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at UVA? Have you been able to arrange any modified performances? Did they inspire the same pre-performance emotions as before the pandemic?

When you refer to “pre-performance emotions” above, are your referring to performance anxiety or to emotions that an actor may feel through characterization in performance? Or are you thinking of something else?

2. Have you ever worked with performers using emotion-based performance analysis tools? If not, how do you recommend identifying and maintaining an emotional state that is conducive to peak performance?

Could you give an example of some of the emotion-based performance analysis? Do you mean something like Strasberg’s Method or is there another analysis tradition you know of that addresses emotion as a tool for analysis?

3. Performing athletes commonly use mental tools such as positive self-talk to help remain in an optimal state of emotion during performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with performance anxiety during performances and why?

When you mention an “optimal state of emotion” above it seems like you’re possibly referring to athletes trying to attain a flow state. Is that what you mean, or is it about athletes also dealing with anxiety?

I responded with the following email to answer his questions, which is where our communications left off as of 12/15/2020:

“Dear Professor Dalton,

Thank you very much for your quick response. January 7th at 1:00 PM works wonderfully for me. I have attached my responses to your questions below, for your reference. If you have any additional questions, please let me know.

Thank you very much,
Kindest Regards,
William Bradford

1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at UVA? Have you been able to arrange any modified performances? Did they inspire the same pre-performance emotions as before the pandemic?

When you refer to “pre-performance emotions” above, are your referring to performance anxiety or to emotions that an actor may feel through characterization in performance? Or are you thinking of something else?

When I refer to “pre-performance emotions,” I mean to inquire about any emotions that one feels before a performance. Any emotion felt before a performance that you also associate with performing can fall into this category. These can include anxiety and stress, if applicable, but can also include any emotions felt through characterization in the beginning of a performance.

2. Have you ever worked with performers using emotion-based performance analysis tools? If not, how do you recommend identifying and maintaining an emotional state that is conducive to peak performance?

Could you give an example of some of the emotion-based performance analysis? Do you mean something like Strasberg’s Method or is there another analysis tradition you know of that addresses emotion as a tool for analysis?

One emotion-based performance analysis tool that is used commonly in sports is the Individualized Zones of Optimal Function (IZOF) framework or model. In this model, athletes are required to fill out questionnaires and complete inventories about their emotional experience during performances. These inventories are then cross-referenced with qualitative performance data of any variety that is collected during the athletic performance that is linked to each experience. After a large enough set of performances have occurred, the athlete, coach, and psychologist can establish what levels of emotion are most conducive to peak performance. It is similar to Strasberg’s Method in that it provides a suggestion for how a performer should feel in order to perform at peak levels. If you feel that Strasberg’s Method helps to identify proper emotions and can provide effective feedback on your performances as well, then it could be considered a tool for emotional analysis.

3. Performing athletes commonly use mental tools such as positive self-talk to help remain in an optimal state of emotion during performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with performance anxiety during performances and why?

When you mention an “optimal state of emotion” above it seems like you’re possibly referring to athletes trying to attain a flow state. Is that what you mean, or is it about athletes also dealing with anxiety?

Optimal states of emotion almost always do include flow, as it is considered an emotion. For each athlete, there are different levels of emotion that are more or less helpful in performance settings. For example, stress and anger can be useful in moderate amounts, but can also be detrimental when they approach overwhelming levels. An optimal state of emotion is a mental state in which each emotion is experienced to the exact degree at which it is most beneficial to the performer.”

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