Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently Asked Questions

My acting coach says to "avoid emotions" or "don't get emotional". Why would I use PEM?

Historically the problem of working with emotions in acting was the lack of knowledge of how to access them directly so the attempts to create emotion were often called unpredictable, stale or wooden. A contributing aspect is that in most societies emotions were traditionally recognised only when they erupted, failed or were chronically suppressed. This has given emotions a negative connotation.

PEM, however, defines emotions biologically as innate, holistic muscle movement patterns (‘movement software of the body’), each with a specific function. (Observation bears out that mammals have emotions, which invites the conclusion that emotions exist prior to cognition)

Through significant trial and experimentation – over twenty years and with thousands of actors and non-actors – PEM was developed into a logical system of working with emotion to a very fine, subtle and precise degree. Therefore, in our experience, all the negative and commonly held beliefs about emotion are no longer an issue. PEM enables you to use emotions on demand, powerfully, reliably and repeatedly.

Isn't working with emotions dangerous and unpredictable?

Quite the opposite. Whilst accidents can happen during physical training of any nature, in twenty years of working with over five thousand actor and non-actors, there has not been one accident through loss of control due to emotion.

Isn't acting about actions and not emotions?

Any action undertaken unemotionally is a mechanical and unmoving one. We need an authentic motivation to make any action truthful and artistically relevant. Emotions, as Stephan Perdekamp defines them, are the software of the body that initiates movement, therefore, using emotions consciously as the motivator of your actions leads to authentic performances. This means PEM complements any acting approach even though it is a complete method of its own.

Why should acting be about emotions? Can't I just say the lines?

Acting isn’t about emotion. Or lines. It is about revealing, exploring and questioning humanity and our place in existence. It just so happens that we are an emotional species and in order to portray human life we must do so emotionally.

Won't getting emotional make me alone on stage, selfish, or self-absorbed?

When we work from the understanding that the emotional system is how we encounter and navigate the world then there is no chance for you to stay focused on yourself. It is only when we try to think emotions into existence in our heads instead of initiating movement patterns that reach into the world that we stay focused on ourselves. The general feedback of actors about PEM demonstrates that when they use the emotional system through PEM they become entirely present, in the moment and focus even more so on their fellow actors and their environment.

Is it industry relevant?

Through the repeatable and practicable use of PEM directors have reported to us that the take count of PEM actors is far lower. We are in the curriculum at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and other major universities because they see just how industry relevant PEM is, not only for economy of craft but also for emotional health, mental well being and longevity of career.

What if it doesn't work anymore? Won't I run out of emotions?

It will continue to work because you are a human being who continues to feel emotion constantly. We never run out of emotion because that is how we operate our body and navigate our world. With PEM we simply and consciously access what we naturally do unconsciously and use that for our art.

I've been using my personal wounds for my acting and it's going well. What's wrong with that?

The short answer is you must do as you choose. PEM was specifically designed to offer a way to use craft instead of using personal trauma or wounds to create deep, intense and meaningful art. PEM is more comparable in its approach to other artistic disciplines where a honed craft leads to the highest artistic accomplishments such as instrumentalists, dancers etc.

Do I have to go through pain and be exploited to be a successful actor or artist?

No. Very often even through good intention actors are told they must suffer for their career. We see suffering as optional. You can if you feel it helps you. We would rather the actor be valued, dignified, sane and healthy and through that, truthful and intense.

Why should I learn character work? What's wrong with typecasting?

If you’re happy to be typecast that’s fine. You can enjoy steady work as an actor business wise. As an artist however it can become a trap for the actor and their craft. You will be permitted only a narrow band of acting and most likely it will be based on your conditioning and your personality. This means you must remain the same for the entirety of your working career. You also run the risk of being disposable when you outgrow the type. Again, it’s not about right or wrong. Our job is to provide you with greater freedom with and through craft.

You mention being repeatable. Doesn't that mean stale?

Those in other arts would consider that question a little odd. Being able to repeat is the essential element of most performing arts. Through an alive and aware repetition true depth and subtlety of craft becomes available. This depth and subtlety is what we most often call art. We define emotion as an essential art of our physical system. When we throw a stick for a dog it fetches it again and again without loss of energy and often in the same way – nobody would expect the dog’s behaviour to become stale. This question only arises in acting because we have not had a dependable way to repeat something with the same energy and aliveness as we can in everyday life. Since PEM operates on the electricity of the nervous system to access emotions, we have seen countless performances repeated over and over again, with exactness and detail. And every performance is as alive as the first one.

How can you apply emotions to speech?

If we release the patterns and conditioning of the system that suppresses emotional use of the voice then it happens naturally. If nothing impedes your speech then your voice will deliver the respective emotion without any problem.

Won't getting emotional ruin my voice?

Quite the opposite. It is the friction and restriction around “getting emotional” and not allowing it to travel freely that strains the voice. Children scream, yell, laugh and cry all day, with no ill vocal affect.

I have often heard it being said that "there is no system" - Why is PEM called a "method"?

It is true, older approaches to acting usually cover only certain aspects of the craft. Actors have become used to collecting different approaches for acting, body work, voice work and often techniques unrelated to acting (Tai Chi, Yoga etc.) to fill up their ‘tool box’ and to find a mix of different approaches that help them deliver.

However, PEM was developed by isolating the biological principals of human behaviour and communication. Emotions, as the ‘biological movement software’, are the driving impulses of all of our actions – and most of our thoughts. PEM was designed to use these discovered biological principals as the base for all technical aspects of acting: body-work, breathing/voice/singing, articulation, character development, improvisation, monologue/scene work, dance and even stage combat. Every exercise, technique and aspect of PEM deepens, highlights and complements every other exercise, technique and aspect of PEM and subsequently produces a fully trained actor who can perform and cooperate at the highest levels of the industry. As the actor does not need to go outside of PEM to complete their acting training, we are happy therefore to call PEM a complete acting method and why we take three years to train our actors.

Does science support the findings of PEM?

PEM is grounded in neuroscience and psychological theory, aligning with the work of Dr Dan Siegal, Bruce Perry, Peter Levine as well as existing theories such as Polyvagal Theory, Somatic Experiencing and Trauma Work.

It sounds too good to be true!

It may seem so but only because a scientifically unverified statement was floated about a century ago that claimed that the emotional system can not be accessed directly and is still taken as fact. (Please also note that it was desirable and necessary to have emotional life on stage but it was just that the knowledge of how to access it was not yet apparent). We now see that this statement is not accurate and is scientifically incorrect. This is not to throw rocks at the past! We all benefit form the artistic and theatrical enquires of our forebears. They were asking theatrical questions of their age. We must now ask questions of ours, given our deeper understanding of human biology and contemporary ways of being.

Why have I never heard of PEM? And why are there so few written and online resources?

PEM is a relatively new method, beginning only 30 years ago. For much of that time it has been establishing the PEM Center in Hamburg Germany.

International workshops only began in 2012, so it is possible a workshop hasn’t been held in your country.

In regards to the limited online and written resources, PEM is a physical method. In order to understand it, it must be experienced in the body first, before referring to written materials.

We do this so as to avoid those who would claim they can teach it without the training and knowledge it requires and to ensure the quality and integrity of the craft.