playing emotions

Illustration by Kate Louise Powell

Playing emotions in a scene is tricky. Some actors like to force their emotions onto a play or a scene, but this is strenuous and only creates cliché and indicated acting that seem unbelievable and unnatural. Don’t go for the emotional result. In life, emotions do not exist by themselves – they come as a response to the circumstances that we are in.

So the general rule is this: the better you understand the circumstances of the scene, the easier it will be for the emotions to come and the truer they will be.

To do this, you need to find out what the obstacles in the scene are – what is it that your character badly wants and what is it that prevents him/her from achieving it? There are two kinds of obstacles. Obstacles that exist in the character’s surroundings (e.g. a person, place or thing) are external obstacles. Internal obstacles are those that occur within the character that the character has trouble dealing with (e.g. the inability to forgive someone). Most strong characters usually have both. Your character must want to overcome the obstacle so concentrate on playing the action that strives to do that.

When the themes are not explicit, you have to find out what they are before determining your character’s responsibility in communicating them to the audience. Eventually, if not already, you will come to realize your character’s place and importance in the play. No character is superfluous – they should all contribute to the message and the drama. You will find a personal stake in your character. You will be able to personalize your character, the situations you need to play, and find ownership in the performance. It is when we find something personal and close in the characters we play that we learn to believe and trust in our work.

Do the above, and the emotions will come. Sometimes even in ways you least expect or planned for.

If ever there comes a time when you have to fake your emotions, then we would like to wish you the very best of luck. Our advice is to a) underplay or b) fully commit to the faking throughout the performance. Or in the words of Lee Strasberg, if a scene needs you to cry, “pinch yourself.”

And if all else fails, then we advise you to invest in a high quality tear stick.

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