"Playing With Emotion"

The Big 'E'

The Rehearsal Room process is clearly defined for a good reason - it produces results. The last Audition Workshop provided clear evidence of this. The process is based on two essential elements. These are that an actor's responsibility in performance is -

  1. to deliver the story; and
  2. to be believable.

If these twin ingredients are delivered then the actors job is done. It may not be done brilliantly or exceptionally or outstandingly but it will definitely be done proficiently. Anyway, who is to say that 'brilliance' was required for the scene. Under most circumstances proficiency is not only quite adequate but exactly what is required. Proficiency by Rehearsal Room standards means the actor is delivering a clear story through active listening and truthful impulse.

But There is More
In addition to being proficient (a thoroughly professional goal) the actor can also hone their intuitive and impulse skills to such a degree that in moments of great importance to the story, where real but simple insights about the human condition have the potential to be revealed, the actor may travel into such areas as

  • memory of the past; or
  • expectation of the future; or
  • dealing with extreme circumstances of the moment; or
  • experiencing major moments of surprise

which draw on skills that transcend the proficient. The outcome of this is a scene with high dramatic and emotional content. Scenes with this sort of potential attract the attention of the actor for it is generally perceived that these are the scenes that provide the opportunity for the actor's abilities to shine. BEWARE!!

The Beginning of Performance Problems
Looking for ways to successfully display acting abilities is a sure way for the actor to reveal their naivety, inexperience, lack of process and ego. Why does this happen so readily under these circumstances? The answer is generally simple. Usually it is because the actor is so intent on finding stimuli to provide wonderful emotional depth that they don't examine the intention of the story. They miss the essential point that THE REASON THIS SCENE HAS THE POTENTIAL FOR SIGNIFICANT EMOTIONAL CONTENT IS THAT IT IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE STORY.

Identifying the Story
If the actor fails to identify the writer's intent then they will often fail to deliver it. If the actor doesn't deliver the story then they have failed at 50% of their allotted task. In addition, at this point they are more than likely working so hard at the emotional content that listening skills also diminish significantly. The actor ceases to be believable and is probably working at about 10% proficiency. SO BEWARE!!!

To clarify the writers intention, try asking some basic questions -

Why is this scene important in this particular story? (It is probably either a moment of revelation to increase the drama, a turning point or the climax)

What does the writer want the scene to say? (This is an element often ignored by the actor. If the scene has nothing to say then it has no need to be in the story. FIND OUT WHAT THIS ELEMENT IS. This is dealing with the thematic content of the story.)

What actually happens in the scene? (This is dealing with the scene structure. How does it begin? What happens in the middle? How does it end? Is there a turning point?)

These questions are essential to the actor's craft. It is amazing how often they are not explored. If these questions are not examined then no amount of wonderful emotional memory or fantastic impulse work will prevent the actor from looking indulgent and/or amateurish. SO BEWARE!!!

An Example
If the content of a scene took the following path -

  1. Man enters room bearing gifts and is happy to see his lover.
  2. She discovers that he has let himself in to her flat because he has taken the liberty of having a key cut without asking for permission and an argument ensues.
  3. Unable to deal with the argument he becomes abusive and abandons the relationship.

It is not a terribly long scene and as it has such a major outcome it is not immediately clear what the writer's intention might be. Some analysis is required before any acting process can be even considered.

In The Beginning …
Where to start? Maybe the first question to ask is "Is the scene believable?" "Does it instantly make sense?" "Are these actions the logical outcome of the circumstances?"

In this case, when the female points out to the male that he has done something that she doesn't like, it is hard to understand why, instead of exploring the problem and endeavouring to resolve the tension, he becomes abusive and ends the relationship. If this outcome seems to be extreme and unexplained in the text then the actor needs to find some reasons to motivate the actions which the writer has left unexplained.

Two immediate possibilities present themselves (you may be able to think of others) -

  1. The male has some reason for acting precipitously. (Such as he is overly dominant and can never stand to be challenged; he is under huge duress and is therefore behaving erratically or he is a sociopath and can't make rational social decisions.)
  2. The female's behaviour has in the past been provocative and unreasonable so there are a number of issues that have previously provoked tension and therefore this is the final of a long run of circumstances and is 'the last straw' for the male.

Which of these choices is the right one?

If the whole text is available, the rest of the script might provide that answer. If it is an audition then maybe a phone call would provide the answer or you could go to the production office and ask to read the whole script - or take a punt, make your own choice and be ready to change at the audition if new information becomes available. On some occasions, particularly in television, the inadequacies might be the result of hasty writing - in which case it is probably left to the actor to either discuss it with the producer/director/script department or muddle through as best they can.

On this occasion it was a scene in isolation for the purposes of a workshop. So, what choices are there for the actor?

Making the Choices
If it is clear from the text that this is a story about 'male dominance' them one of the first options is more likely to be the best approach. If it is a story about 'over stepping reasonable bounds' then maybe both elements 1 & 2 need to be more in balance with, both characters pursuing power for powers sake. Or if it's a story about 'a failure to communicate' then maybe points 1 & 2 have equal storytelling weight with the failure to communicate emanating from confusion, obsession or bias rather than power. WHATEVER CHOICE IS MADE, ONCE A REASON FOR TELLING THE STORY HAS BEEN DETERMINED THE BEGINNING AND ENDING OF THE SCENE WILL BECOME IMMEDIATELY CLEAR.

In addition once these choices have been made the actor can then, with a clear sense of purpose, commence to put in place the foundations of the performance ingredients that will deliver this outcome. Without these choices being made the actor can only make arbitrary choices such as -

  • I think I will be really angry at the end
  • It would probably be good if I cried with frustration in the middle
  • I think I will walk around a lot in this scene

The outcome of these types of choices is that the audience sees lots of 'anger', 'crying', 'frustration' and 'walking' - but they never know why they are watching the story and in addition the story will probably be unclear even contradictory or confusing.


What The Audience Sees
Once the story is clearly identified, and an active "need" (the foundations of the performance process) is in place then additional elements can be played with that may trigger greater subconscious/intuitive or emotional responses. These include building an extensive pre-history - a memory bank of emotional triggers that can lie in wait for the appropriate impulse. These are the final touches which aid but don't create the performance process. Without these last elements a performance may survive quite well - still being functional and clear. However, if these final ingredients are the starting point, the outcome is often that the actor gets no further than the exploration of emotional impulse. Consequently, the result is a strongly emotional and impulsive performance that feels great to the actor but leaves the audience unsatisfied from an indulgent, illogical, often cliché ridden exhibition and an unclear story.

If the story is clearly told and the listening functioning well, then emotional connections can be comfortably explored provided that they are still guided by the character's "need". BUT BEWARE, too much emphasis on the Big 'E' can destabilize the essential ingredients.

February 2003

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2003. All rights Reserved.



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