Emotion in Acting

byMaggie Flanigan

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Charlie Sandlan - Acting Coach NYC - Acting Coach in NYCEmotion in acting is a subject that can be misunderstood by many actors, particularly those who are not trained. Most actors think that an actor is “good” if he/she can cry. For many it stands as a benchmark of talent. This is a major misconception. Bad actors want to feel. Bad actors strain to bring forced emotion to the surface. But in truth, people go through life trying NOT to feel. We try to hold it together; we try to hide our feelings, until at times we become overwhelmed by the depth of our experience. Good actors value quality of emotion over quantity. The mark of a good actor is the ebb and flow of their emotional life.

mesiner summer intensiveWhat many fail to understand is that emotion is not going to clarify a part. When doing eight shows a week, or 20 takes of a deep scene on a film or tv set, an actor who relies on emotion is going to have a very difficult time. What are you going to do on the nights when you don’t feel anything? It will happen often, and an actor still has to go on. What sustains an actor, what provides consistency and vivid authentic behavior is crafting. When an actor has a technique, a way of working that grounds them in the fundamentals, they put their attention on the other person and do truthfully. Emotion then becomes a by-product of good crafting. Actors who do their homework, implant meanings, craft a personal acting relationship, and have worked out their actions and line intentions realize that the next step is to leave themselves alone and try to achieve something. If an actors placement of concentration is where it needs to be, and they truthfully do, then emotion will follow. Good actors, well-trained actors, understand that emotion is like elevator music. It’s great to have, but it’s not going to solve anything. And if you want to play major parts, lead roles with complicated character arcs, then you must have emotional depth. But at the end of the day, acting is doing, not feeling. Actors who prioritize emotion are self-indulgent, and violate the principle of acting. They ouch louder than they are pinched, and they do not have a truthful reality.

The fluidity of an actor’s emotional life is also very important. This requires a body that is capable of supporting rich emotion. The ability to come to life is of no value if it happens in a body riddled with tension. An emotionally alive actor should be aesthetically pleasing to watch. The body must be pliable and released with a voice that is not strained or locked. This cannot be solved in an acting class. An actor must take movement and voice classes to develop their physical instrument.

So remember that emotional accessibility is wonderful to have as an actor, but it should never be your priority.

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