Don’t kill the emotion by playing it

How not to kill the emotion by playing it

Actors are petrified of the stage direction: ‘S/he falls into floods of tears’. The outcome has been prescribed by the writer, and the actor is thrown immediately into doubt: ‘Will I be able to have that emotion on cue?’ It is hard to get out of the endgaming mindset, since as actors we know how the scene ends – but the character doesn’t know. We’re also told to react in a certain way, or move on a certain line, by our directors. So, somehow we need to find a position similar to that of the character, who doesn’t know what they’re doing until they do it, and sometimes even then they’re not quite sure why they responded that way.

In life, we don’t know how a moment is going to turn out. We certainly don’t know that we’ll fall into floods of tears when our partner says, ‘It’s over’. And we often find ourselves doing something in the moment and are not quite sure why we’re doing it. Meisner would edit all stage directions out of his text, except for practical ones like ‘he picks up the telephone’, or ‘he leaves the room’. He identified that more interesting responses could come out of this way of working; that being told how to do something or feel about something at a specific point in the text is not helpful. In fact, if you are able to kid yourself into not anticipating a result, but working off your scene partner and the situation, you may just find that the moment will hit you. Worrying about an emotion and trying to make it happen, will put you in your head, and remove you from the circumstances of the scene. And as a parting thought, surely if you’re feeling sad in the moment that is enough, the physical floods of tears are actually cosmetic, and not necessary.

The salon:collective offers training and professional development for actors, tailored to the needs of the industry, through its programme of acting (Meisner-based), movement and voice classes in London.

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