The Kuleshov Effect was demonstrated in the early part of the 20th century by the Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov. Kuleshov was exploring the relatively new art form of cinema and how meaning could be derived from montage and the juxtaposition of images. To show the effect, Kuleshov edited together a shot of a bowl of soup, followed by a shot of a man looking into the camera. The next shot is of a young girl in a coffin, followed again by a shot of the man looking into the camera. The last shot is of a woman reclining on a chaise, followed by the final image of the man looking into the camera. The story told by each pair of shots is remarkably different, with the man appearing hungry, sad, and enticed as the shots progress. Yet the shots of the man are identical. It is in the juxtaposition of the images that the viewer perceives meaning and actually imputes different emotional states to the actor whose expression never changes. You can watch it for yourself below.
This is useful for the acting student to consider. As actors, we are only a part of the process by which meaning and story are conveyed. We are a cog in the machine, and we must remember that we are not responsible for telling every aspect of the story. That weight is carried by the production as a whole, by the sum of the parts and all of the artists involved — the writer, the director, the other actors, the costume, set and sound designers, the editor, the entire production team, be it a staged or filmed production. So we must engage in the experience and play our role, but throw off the weight of carrying the production and telling the story. The team tells the story, and by playing our part in that telling, with simplicity, honesty, and authenticity, we allow the audience to witness it.