Make Us Feel Something

I  had the honor to be asked by the SAGFoundation to participate in a two day summit for actors in Atlanta this weekend, and I lead a mock audition workshop with a group of sweet, vibrant people.   It was a lot of fun and also informative, from both sides.   The entire event was free to the actors.

I was reminded of a precept I hold dear which basically is  – Don’t intellectualize the material, emotionalize it. 

As an actor, the only thing you can play is emotions. It’s the only thing the audience responds to, really.  You think we’re attracted to hot bodies?  No. We’re attracted to a strong emotional inner life.   Adele has won a gaggle of Grammys writing and singing songs that are extremely emotional.  Apparently, whether we listen to very happy songs or very sad songs, dopamine is released when we feel and either way we are elated by this.  Feeling makes us feel better.

I often ask actors “what are you feeling at the top of the scene?”  Not what do you want or what is your action.  A good audition, whether it be for a lead or a co-star, especially if it’s for a co-star as there is usually very little to go on, has at least five emotional qualities.  Both dark and light,

A charismatic person is the perfect balance of the two. If you are all dark qualities, you will scare us, and if you are all light qualities, we won’t be emotionally moved by you. Shakespeare’s plays are all about self-knowledge and balance. If you’re too much of one thing, you either end up dead or your family is destroyed (Macbeth, King Lear).  If you’re the perfect balance of man and woman, dark and light, you end up happily married (Rosalind in As You Like It).  

Once you have your five qualities and are feeling them, all simultaneously, just as we do in real life/real behavior, start the scene.   Don’t think about it too much.  Absolutely don’t think “I’m going to be sad on this line and optimistic on the next one.”  Don’t map it out.  Just feel it all and go.

Oh, and be well-prepped with the dialogue.  If you are struggling with the lines, no amount of emotions can save you.  You will be stuck in your head and that’s doom for an audition.