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Writing Empathetically Through Free Association and Sense Memory Mackenzie, Donnard J. May 3, 2012

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WRITING EMPATHETICALLY THROUGH FREE ASSOCIATION AND SENSE MEMORY  D. A. MacKenzie PhD Candidate, UBC LLED, Narrative and Drama Studies PROLOGUE AND CONTEXT I am a playwright/actor/teacher and arts based researcher. This is an inprocess reflection of work I have been doing with my creative writing, acting and my teaching of drama and dramatic writing. I have been exploring a few concepts that have been part of my practical understanding as a professional theatre artist for many years. When I work in my tradition of text based theatre, I am in effect in silent conversation with the legacy of artists who have come before me. My new play is based upon the creative dynamics on John Huston`s biographical film Freud (1962). The writing process, and my background reading on psychoanalysis and its start as the talking cure, has led me to make certain connections in my artistic and teaching practice. Empathy I see that my practice of the art of the theatre, inclusive of drama in educational settings, engages personal empathy. The work as outlined here demonstrates the background means of that engagement Freudian based Free Association Free Association may still be considered somewhat controversial. The participant speaks aloud freely whatever words and images come to mind. Stanislavski’s concept of Sense Memory and the actor`s Inner Monologue Sense Memory is an actor’s technique for making more physically real the psychological truth of the character`s experience by using the actors own sensual memories of experiences. To explore character and the given circumstances of the play, the actor may improvise a steady stream speak aloud of the inner monologue life of the character. Words into Dramatic Monologues These techniques are used as interpretative tools. Given that they are word based, I have applied them as creative approaches for writing dramatic monologues or stories, including work with in-service teachers. Authentic Witness As a supportive alternative to the writer working strictly alone in the early writing, I adapted the concept of the authentic witness, which I discuss in a later section.  FREE ASSOCIATION AND SENSE MEMORY  Inner Monologue  GUIDED FREE ASSOCIATION WRITING • The writer sits in a comfortably alert and neutral position • The writer meditates on her breathing, repeating in a quiet voice, “Breathing in and breathing out…” • The writer then starts to freely say some images and phrases • Once that talk is freely flowing, the writer may choose to guide the images through a chosen memory  • The writer will take the notes and choose to create an order • The free association is then further guided by the writer • The order may be in the form of the inner thoughts of a character • The character is informed by the sense memory the writer is choosing to focus on Options for the Writer • The Inner Monologue may become a story from the character • Shared directly with the audience, as performance • The writer may also choose to turn the work into a story • The writing begins with the sense memory as expressed with words that  Authentic Witness  arise from the lived experience of the writer’s body.  • The authentic witness is a concept adapted from contact improvisational dance and dance therapy for dramatic writing • People have an inherent need to be recognized, to be seen • Authentic means to be present as a witness for the writer  Excerpt of Empathetic Monologue The following excerpt is from an in-service teacher who was a student in my drama education class. It is used with permission of the author. R.B.: “Well, what is it this time. Just leave me alone! What do you want from me? I didn’t do anything! Here it comes. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...Are you done yet? Can I go now? See ya later! Wouldn’t want to be ya! I feel like I do the wrong thing all the time. Do you guys even trust me? For once I would like it if they told me I did a great job at something like helping out a friend in class. I wonder if they even notice these things. I am trying my best. Just give me a chance to prove myself. Sometimes, I can’t help myself from doing these things. I do feel bad afterwards. I am trying. It’s just so hard sometimes. I try to fit in with my friends but they just don’t seem to understand me…No one seems to understand me except for my mom. I miss my mom. I wish she was here with me. I feel so alone sometimes….”  QUESTIONS for APPLICATION/DISCUSSION • What drama strategies might be used to prepare and extend to use this work?  Mirror Games including Boal’s, Word Tennis, Sensory Walk, Soundscape, Hotseating in varied forms • What new understanding might be found for teachers of their student’s learning by consciously engaging empathy through dramatic writing? • How might the tools of drama and theatre acting craft be applied to the process of creative writing? • How would this work be adapted for direct use by students in the K to 12 setting?  Authentic Witness as Scribe • In dance the witness may describe what was shared freely in movement form after it is complete. In the context of creative writing, the witness is also a scribe. • For writing, the authentic witness sits in a chair opposite the writer.  Empathetic Awareness through this Technique  • The authentic witness will supportively watch and listen to the writer • Once this is practiced, the witness will scribe every phrase and image spoken from the writer  • Various research shows a greater personal empathy leads to more effective learning. • In theatre and drama one is asked to experience new people and new ideas through the “magic if”  • Much of our experience of the world is through our body and the five senses • Self-guided free association helps the writer to focus on the visceral nature of experiences • For example, one specific memory of a scent may help make more vivid the flow of phrases and images • When the flow starts to slow or runs dry or begins to repeat, we bring ourselves back to talking from our physical position in the present moment. • Ask how is my body physically feeling; what words might I use to describe what my senses are telling me; and then begin the association again RESEARCH POSTER PRESENTATION DESIGN © 2012  • As in role play, WHAT IF I am a new mother; a young student struggling to read; or, someone faced with a dilemma that is outside my range of personal experience—how would I respond? • Teachers may use Sense Memory Association as a way of seeing  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This work is adapted from concepts related to Sigmund Freud, Constantine Stanislavski (1936), Judith Koltai,(1993), the Roots of Empathy research (nd), Augusto Boal, (2001), and my own practice. Images used are in the public domain, accessed through UBC wiki. For a full list of references and acknowledgements, please contact me at Thanks to colleagues and professors within UBC Faculty of Education, including Carl Leggo, George Belliveau, Lynn Fells and Rita Irwin, and theatre department professor, Stephen Heatley.  their teaching from a particular student’s point-of view. • Writing an inner monologue from the point-of-view of a student  Special thank-you as well to teachers and students I have worked with, most recently the LLED Drama in Education class 2012..  whose trajectory the teacher has altered in some way. If you have comments for this work, please contact me as above. •  


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