“It’s the Talking I Find Hard”

Actors look forward to playing scenes where a strong emotional response is required. Universally actors seem to relish these opportunities. Inexperienced actors often say they like these big scenes and can do them really well it’s the ordinary talking ones that are hard. Obviously this can be a major problem, for an actor is likely to have to play ‘ordinary talking’ scenes on a more regular basis than big emotional ones.

It can be a problem on another level too, for sometimes scenes that feel really good to the actor in fact haven’t played very well for the audience. Of course the converse is also true but the scene where the actor is pushing the emotional parameters is one situation where this misjudgement may occur.

Why is this? And what’s the actor’s fascination with emotion?

Emotion Feels Significant
Big emotional scenes fascinate because usually they occur at turning points in the story so they claim an importance of their own. To be the person who is delivering that crucial bit of the story has significance in itself. In addition these are the scenes in which it is anticipated that the audience will also be moved by the experience. Knowing that your audience is crying is as big a reward for the actor as loud applause or laughter.

But this fascination with exploring emotion is much more complicated.

While we often feel that there is a lot of emotion being displayed in the world around us, the fact is we seldom reveal to others the way we actually feel. This behaviour is even embodied in our social etiquette. If we are feeling very unwell and someone asks us how we are, the usual response is to say we are fine, thank you. When it comes to strongly felt emotions people generally keep them to themselves. We are like the police officer who always carries a gun but rarely uses it. Emotion, as with police officers and their guns, can be something which is never used during a working life.

So how much emotion do we see around us?

Walk down the street and have a look.

Holding Emotion Back
A stroll through any public place will reveal that there’s seldom much emotion on display. We might see some frustration, that is, someone holding back the way they really feel. Only occasionally does this erupt into anger. If we do see anger or tears or even affection we remember it because it is so different from what we usually experience around us. The exuberant happiness of a small child makes us smile because it is such an honest and innocent expression of the moment. Everyone else is not showing the world how they really feel.

Actors Do!
The rules of the actors world are however different. Because for some roles actors have to be able to explore and display their emotional responses the actor is given permission to play out feelings. It can be a wonderful release of built up tensions. It can become a drug. Free at last the actor can ‘let it all hang out’.

Remember - that if we are trying to create a truthful image of the world we live in then our observations will tell us that we are going to spend more time dealing with the reasons people don’t display their emotions rather than exploring the way they do.

The actor who with naïve enthusiasm is celebrating the fact that they felt everything that transpired in a scene may have, in the euphoria of their personal involvement, entirely missed the fact that they have failed to deliver both story and drama.

Being able to explore emotional responses is an essential skill for an actor, but understanding

  • what triggers them,
  • why we avoid them,
  • how the character is using them,
  • what contribution they make to the drama
  • and how they help the story unfold

is of greater importance, for without these elements the emotional expression has no purpose other than to benefit the actor.

February 2001

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2001. All rights Reserved.



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