ACTING CRAFT TECHNIQUES FOR INSTANTLY ACTIVATING ANY EMOTION.
I know many actors use the term "Cry On Cue" and not "Demand." Consider it the same thing. I've just made a choice to use this "Demand" and will stick with it for the sake of consistency. But "Cue" and "Demand" are the same thing, meaning "Instantly"
The great American actor Robert Duvall shared a thought in an interview with the Washington Post back in 1989 and he said, "My old acting teacher, Sanford Meisner, said, 'If crying means great acting, my Aunt Tillie could have been another Eleanora Duse.'" - Let's face it, there seems to be this worldwide obsession and firmly held belief that if you can cry on stage or on camera, that means your a good actor or you're doing good acting. And frankly, it's just plain wrong. Just because you can cry, does not mean that you are living truthfully in the moment. It does not mean you are connected to the material or the other actor. It does not mean that you are making an impact on the audience and affecting them in a way that makes them also experience your sadness.
STOP THE MADNESS!!!
PRODUCING TEARS DOES NOT EQUAL GOOD ACTING!!!
Now, with that strong point of view out there in the open, let's explore a few acting craft techniques that can help you manifest, not just sadness which might lead to tears, but also any emotion. I pose this question to you, "Why do actors rarely ask the question, 'How do I laugh on demand?'" Why is it always about Crying on Demand? Be honest with yourself right now. If the title of this blog post was LAUGH ON DEMAND, would you have been interested enough to click to read the post or was it because the post title was CRY ON DEMAND that made you want to learn more?
The ability to stimulate something inside yourself to manifest every emotion is the goal. We actors must have the ability to access the expansive pallet of emotions that exist inside our bodies and every one of those emotions should be given equal weight and respect. There is not one emotion that deserves more admiration.
So, let's explore some acting craft techniques that are specifically designed to stimulate an emotional response within you so that you can do your job and fulfill your emotional obligations and responsibilities.
If your only goal is to produce tears above all else, there are 3 surefire ways to physiologically stimulate the production of water from your eyes.
1. DON'T BLINK - If you force yourself to keep your eyes open and simply do not blink, at some point, your body will go into self-preservation mode and your tear ducts will produce tears in order to moisten your eyes. And if you just fight through the pain and still don't blink even after your tears naturally start to emerge, more tears will come. And honestly, the sheer physical pain and suffering on your face and in your body that you actually experience when you're fighting through the pain of the dry eyes and the urge to blink, all of that will be perceived by the audience as you emotionally suffering because of the circumstances in the story. The audience will do the work for you and make the assumption that you're in pain and crying because of what your character just experienced. And why is that not valid? Why do you believe that the only path to truthful acting is when you dredge up the time that your dog was run over by a car when you were six? Stop it! There is more than 1 path to doing your job. Emotion Memory (reliving your past events) is 100% a valid approach and one of the most powerful tools in acting, but it certainly is not the only path to a desired emotional state. Your job as an actor is not to cry. Your job as an actor is to do your job and if the audience perceives that what you seem to be feeling and experiencing is authentic and appropriate for the story they are watching, then you've done your job, regardless how you achieved it.
2. CUT AN ONION - I don't need to rewrite what I just wrote above and I know you get the point. This is not cheating. This is just another technique that's been around for ages. If all you care about is producing tears, then why not pick the path of least resistance. Cut the onion and let the fumes do their magic.
3. RIP OUT A NOSE HAIR - Sure, this one is a bit gross and self-inflicting pain is never recommended, but again, if all you care about is the production of tears, then reach up into your nose, grab hold of a clump of nose hairs and rip.
The point with the three approaches above is simple. Crying on Demand is not hard. If all you care about is producing tears, you can do it effortlessly. But if you believe the suggestions above are cheating or fake acting or wrong in some way, then what you're really saying to yourself is this...
When I have to cry in a scene, I don't feel comfortable using short-cuts just to reach a result. I want to push myself and my craft farther and dig deeper. I want to make sure that I am authentically experiencing something so that my body, my senses, my imagination, my emotions all respond truthfully and what I experience is honest, vulnerable and connected, so that if and when I cry as a result of this experience, the audience will become an active experiencer, an active participant, along with me and not just observe me do some forced public emotional masturbation for contrived results.
If you agree that this is the root of it all, that this is the truth you seek, then I am right there with you and I will say this; the same must be true, not just for the tears, but for the laughter, the rage, the jealousy, the sensuality, the lust, the shame, and on and on. But we should never be above ripping out a nose hair on take 25 when the director just needs 1 more tear and we are emotionally drained after a long day. We still have a job to do.
What we are talking about now is EMOTIONAL PREPARATION and EMOTION ACTIVATION techniques to rise your emotions so you can truthfully experience and share the emotion and then put that into the work. So let's look at several approaches.
GUIDED IMAGINATION-BASED DAYDREAMS
1. Start with a reality in your life and go on a guided daydream and point the imagination journey towards events that you know will result in the desired emotional state. To honor the title of the blog, I'll give an example to help you shed a few tears. It's important to note that this is 100% imagination based. There is NO reliving of actual past life events. Start with a reality in your life. For me, I can use the fact that I have a daughter whom I love, admire and respect. I must start from a relaxed state. Relaxation comes before everything - that goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. if you have tension, you cannot function, so you must relax first - (There are powerful relaxation techniques inside the TOOLBOX so consider joining.) Assuming I am 100% relaxed, I sensorily create my daughter. Again, Sense Memory pops up. You must master Sense Memory, and YES, I teach it inside the TOOLBOX. I create my daughter so she is real for me. I can see her, hear her, feel her and I can even get a sense of her perfume. Once she is real for me, I go on a guided daydream and imagine a conversation with her where she shares some news with me that deeply saddens me. Perhaps she tells me she's just come from the doctor where she's received very bad news, or perhaps she tells me she is moving across the country, or perhaps she tells me she was assaulted in some way. I guide the daydream, this imagined conversation, to a place that I know touches my heart. I experience it as if it were real and I allow my imagination to lead me towards a place of deep sadness. And that deep sadness would then bring me one step closer to tears. Of course, there are no guarantees and that's why it's important to have multiple tools available to you in case your primary tool does not help you fulfill the emotional obligation one day.
2. Of course, I can also leverage my imagination and create a scenario through a guided daydream that is 100% invented and leave all aspects of my personal life out of the exploration. Obviously, this takes commitment and belief in your imagination, but I know it's possible. Create for yourself a scenario that touches your heart. Perhaps you love dogs and you spend all your free time and money working to protect abused dogs. What would happen if you went on an imagined guided daydream and saw a black garbage bad tossed out of a moving car as you were on your morning walk. The bag begins to move and you hear some noise coming from inside the bag. You rush over to it and tear it open to find a battered Boston Terrier with blood dripping from its eyes. You quickly remove your sweatshirt and wrap the dog inside, holding it close to your chest, hearing it cry. There's no reason to continue this story. It's sad enough as it is. It's 100% invented, but done so in a manner to point me towards the sadness and the tears.
RELIVING OR RE-EXPERIENCING PAST EVENTS
(The 'There & Then' in the 'Here & Now')
1. The mastery of the acting craft skill Sense Memory gives an actor the ability to explore past personal life events with the intent that through the re-experiencing of the past event, the feelings they had during the event will resurface and can be used to fulfill the Emotional Obligation. This is called Emotion Memory or Affective Memory or Effective Memory or Emotion Recall or Emotional Recall. But, let's be clear to not confuse Sense Memory with Emotion Memory. They are NOT synonymous. You use Sense Memory (a skill you MUST acquire if you're a serious actor) as the Approach Technique (as Eric Morris calls it) in order to have an effective Emotion Memory exploration.
So, if you wish to Cry on Demand or Laugh on Demand or Rage Out Of Control on Demand, you could use your mastery of Sense Memory to explore a past event as if it was happening now. This would be done off-stage/camera and once the emotions are there, you'd get to work. Attempting to teach you how to do Sense Memory or how to work through an Emotion Memory exploration here is counter-productive. If you are hungry to learn these skills (and you should be), I go into great detail on the videos inside the TOOLBOX. With that said, if you can successfully re-experience a past life event through your senses and call forward the desired emotions to fulfill the obligations, then this approach would be a wonderful tool to help you "Feel" on Demand.
2. I am aware that as we move through our lives, when we retrospectively look back at past events, we often times have a vastly different emotional response to the event as compared to what we felt when it first happened.Often very scary things can become really funny. Also, many things you thought were funny at the time might make you quite sad, melancholy or nostalgic. I look at this as a beautiful thing. You now potentially have access to double the number of life experiences to help you do your job. You can re-experience the past event like you did when you were living through it OR you can experience it retrospectively and leverage your new emotional response. In either case, this approach to rising your emotions is valid, powerful and one of the most important acting craft tools to gain mastery over. For if you can skillfully and carefully leverage you actual life events in a psychologically healthy way to help you shift your emotional state so you can do you job on stage then you have the world at your fingertips.
ADDITIONAL EMOTION ACTIVATION TECHNIQUES
There are many other techniques that you can use to rise your emotions. I will list a few here and share a high level overview of them because I will be writing future blogs on these topics where I will go into great detail, so keep an eye out for them. And perhaps Join our Mailing List to get notified when new blogs are posted.
MANTRAS are short little phrases that play in a loop in your mind. There is a principle that "You Are Or You Become That Which You Think About Most Of The Time." It's a self-fulfilling prophesy. If, all day long, you think, "I'm a loser. I'm a loser. I'm a loser." then you will exude loser energy. If you're at the audition in the lobby and you keep thinking, "I'm never going to book this job. I'm never going to book this job. I'm never going to book this job." well, you're probably right, you won't. If all day long you walk around thinking, "I'm the best. I'm the best. I'm the best." well your body and emotions will shift into a state of confidence. The point here is that "You Are Or You Become That Which You Think About Most Of The Time." So if you want to "Cry on Demand" just think a short Mantra that pierces your heart in a way that points your body towards the sadness.
MOVEMENT is another effective way to transform your emotional state. If you needed to create a sense of youthful joyfulness, I would suggest you go outside and skip or spin around or play the game Tag. Emotions are hard-wired to our movements and our body instantly recognizes certain movements as being connected strongly to emotional responses. So if you need to be sad and cry, walk slowly like you would behind a coffin at a funeral as they are carrying the coffin to the grave site. This slow, heavy, labored movement will be the trigger your body needs to point you to sadness and tears.
MUSIC has a powerful effect on us. Both listening and playing music can transform our emotions. We've all experienced the moment when you hear a song that used to be "your song" with your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and it brings back those feelings you felt before. So if you need to be sad and cry, why not create a "mix tape" (or I suppose the younger generation now call it a 'playlist') of songs that pierce your heart. Then listen to the songs privately and allow your memories and senses to be effected. The song Supermarket Flowers by Ed Sheeran rips my heart out every time.
And if you play the piano or guitar or any instrument for that matter, perhaps you know a piece of music or you can improvise if you have that skill, and simply play the song/chords/notes that transform your body and helps the feelings of sadness surface.
HANDS-ON ACTIVE DOING: There is a principle in acting that "Acting Is Doing" so through specific "DOINGS" you can help stimulate a desired emotional state. Sit down and write a sad story or journal about a sad event from your life. Don't type. Pick up a pencil or a pen and write. The act of physically writing stimulates so many more responses in you then the mechanical pushing of keys on a keyboard. Perhaps your Draw or Paint or Sculpt or Cook or Bake. Try any physical activity that you associate with sadness and allow your body to lead you to the desired emotional state.
And now we get to the final approach explored in this blog.
Neuro-Linguistic Programing (NLP for short) and it is a way for you to literally program your body, through a series of Anchors and Triggers, so that you can push a button on your body and your emotions will instantly surface. Sound too good to be true? Well it's not. I will explain it through a few examples.
Think of any place that you go to that makes you uncomfortable. Your creepy cousin's house, the doctor's office, a mausoleum, anywhere. Now think of your emotional state as you approach that location. And now think of how your emotions shift as you pass through the threshold and enter. The moment you pass through the door and go inside, your body and emotions instantly respond. You do not need to think about it. You do not need to do anything. You just have a programmed response to the location. Your feelings about that location are Anchored inside of you and your Trigger those feelings to surface the moment you walk through the door.
Think about a place that fills you full of love, joy, excitement, pride, etc. Perhaps it's a specific theater or a sports stadium or a vacation spot. The same applies here. The moment you enter that space, your body and emotions are transformed. You are not working to bring the emotions forward, they just surface all on their own. Your emotions are Anchored to this location and when you enter, you Trigger the emotions to surface.
Knowing this is SO important for actors, because we can use the entire NLP Anchors and Triggers process to program our body as an Emotion Machine. And in fact, I have created a 90 minute video training program called "REACT: Learn How Actors Use NLP To Cry On Demand" REACT stands for Rapid Emotion Activation Craft Training and the video teaches you how to program your body to instantly feel any emotion you desire.
Well, that brings us to the end of this blog post. As you can see, there are so many ways to "Cry on Demand" - you just need to find the right approaches that work for your body and then explore them so they become a dependable part of your personal toolbox. And if you want to learn more approaches to fulfilling Emotional Obligations, please consider JOINING THE TOOLBOX today.
I hope this post has inspired you in some small way. I look forward to reading your comments.
Bye for now,
See you inside the Toolbox.