University of Southern Indiana

Psychology professor makes theatrical debut

Psychology professor makes theatrical debut

11/16/2006 | University Communications
Dr. Ken Carter, assistant professor of psychology, is a fan of William Shakespeare, so when he heard that USI Theatre planned a production of the Bard’s romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he contacted Elliot Wasserman, director of theatre.

Carter offered behind-the-scenes help, but Wasserman asked if he’d considered acting. Carter auditioned and was cast as Theseus, the Duke of Athens.

He’s enjoyed the rehearsal process, but has found it a bit daunting. “It’s a minor role, but an important one, and I do have a fair amount of lines,” he said.

As a cognitive psychologist, Carter has a unique perspective on how actors might better prepare. “My area is human memory,” he said. “In theater, actors have to do a lot of memorization, but they use different processes to help them learn memorization and deal with nervousness. We deal with the same issues, but use different languages in psychology. I can offer some new strategies.”

He offered “state-dependent learning” as an example. “If I’m studying my lines in a relaxed environment, that’s the state. But on stage, I’m not so relaxed. If you are psychologically aroused, that interferes with your ability to get to memories you had when you were relaxed.”

While actors might force themselves to relax in performance, Carter said, “My notion was, instead of forcing yourself to be relaxed in practice, be in stress in rehearsal. Maybe do lines randomly, which is much more stressful.”

Carter said the actors could be given random cues, to which they would have to reply with the correct line. This would create a nervous state in rehearsal as in performance.

When asked whether he thought theatre students would embrace this technique, he said, “I have no idea. They probably would run me out on a rail.”

Carter also studies semantic networks and associations: words and their subtle meanings. In Shakespeare’s plays, he said, “The flow of language is different, which causes people a lot of problems. The subtleties of the language that he wrote for his time are different now, so there are several double entendres that people today would not get, but there also is the opportunity to create double entendres that were not intended at the time.”

Asked if he has future plans to tread the boards, he said, “Not at this point. It’s hard to say, until you have the full experience where you’re actually on stage.”

He added that he is plenty busy between rehearsals and his class schedule. This semester he teaches Sensation and Perception, Introduction to Psychology, and Psychological Research Methods/Statistics.

Carter came to the University in fall 2004 from Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Kansas.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through November 19 at USI Theatre, 3001 Igleheart Avenue. Performance times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. There is one Tuesday performance on November 14 at 7 p.m. and one Sunday matinee on November 19 at 2 p.m.

Single ticket prices are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors 60 and over, and $4 for USI students. Tickets may be purchased by calling the USI Theatre box office at 812/422-3970.

Tickets also may be purchased at the door; the box office will open one hour before each performance.

Contact John Farless


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