By Simon Naylor
This week in Screen Acting class & Micro-Scene Study we briefly discussed the difference between emotion and connection. I wanted to take some time to further elaborate on the point and why it’s important for actors to recognise them both, learn about how they are ‘used’ and how this can help our choices.
We’ve all seen plays where two actors spend a good hour screaming at each other and speaking far too fast for either one of them to have actually heard, never mind received or processed what is being said. As an audience member, I do feel uncomfortable, yes, but I don’t feel uncomfortable for the right reasons. I feel terrible because I’m watching two actors, completely detached from the truth, simply trying to seemingly wow an audience with clunky, barbaric and silly choices – this ultimately makes me feel like I’m having words repeatedly thrown at my face. I don’t care about them – other than with a deep desire that they’ll stop shouting at each other and start, at least, shouting for a reason! This shouting is inevitably happening because the actors are not connected and are struggling to manipulate an audience in some other way.
What I need to feel as an audience member is empathy. A connection to the plight of the person/people I’m watching. Let us just accept that all plays (and TV shows/films) have some sort of conflict of the inner and outer personas of characters (if they don’t, it’s probably crap!). With this, we are hopefully invited in by the creative team, to share the journey of our protagonists and every feeling of fear, regret, anger, loathing etc. These are emotions and we as audience members must feel them to be engaged by a piece.
An actor however, cannot just display the traits & mannerisms of what they think an emotion is! You know my feelings on actors’ squeezing out tears because they think this portrays ‘sadness’. It’s a nonsense. Similarly, shouting at another person without any connection doesn’t display anger. It actually gives us amateur, two-dimensional work that an audience will feel something towards, but it won’t be true empathy.
We can be tricked! We are so numbed down now and so often devoid of any true emotion because of the rise of smart-phones and social media, we settle for pretend demonstrations, but, as actors, as people who are a part of the industry, we must ask for more. Cheap imitations are, for want of a better word, crap. They cheapen your job, our job and the whole industry.
So, how do we avoid these cheap displays of emotion and deliver truthful, honest and connected work? The answer, to use ourselves! Those of you who have attended any classes with MAP will know that this is something we are adamant about. It is essential that we, as actors, do just this. We cannot ‘stick on’ a character that we have selected from our little bag of tricks. If we do this, it becomes impossible to connect and so we just end up emoting; shouting/crying at each other in the hope that we shout enough to disguise that we’re not, in the slightest, connected to anything.
How do we use ourselves? I haven’t had a cat that has died! I’ve never been burgled! I’ve never been dumped, felt lost, ill, hurt, ecstatic, envious etc. Well, of course we haven’t all been through exactly what the character has. It would be easy if we had! It’s far easier to connect to the idea that we’ve lost a loved one if we have – we can remember it. However, if we haven’t then what can we do? We must look for those things in ourselves that resemble the same vulnerability that losing someone creates. What we MUST NOT do, which we see regularly, is to ACT! We MUST connect. We have to connect to the emotional state of that person. What are they feeling/experiencing? In essence, we must simply change our name, change the circumstances that we are existing in to the circumstances of that character at that time, and share what they feel. What they feel are emotions. What we must do however, is not emote, but connect.
So, how do I connect? Answer – you train! You train your entire body. As humans, we don’t just use our mouths to convey feelings. In fact, 7% of our communication with other people is verbal, leaving a huge 93% as non-verbal; tone and volume and a huge amount as physical transactions between people, eyes, touch, stature, etc.
This is body language. So, when we speak about connection, you simply have to have connected not just emotionally, but also physically. The way you as that person feels must radiate from your every fibre; the way you sit, the way you move, your gaze, your breath. Each and every part of you from your toes to your crown must exist in that world of imagined circumstances, powered by your connection to a similar vulnerability or position that the character is in.
We cannot do this without training. Why? Because we as actors must flex and stretch, develop and grow our connection like muscles. If we feel connection once in class – joy! But that is 1% of your training completed. You must re-visit that place, go further, connect to different parts; train yourself. This is simple, but not easy, and it’s not easy because for years, we have been told to lock away our emotions, close down our imagination, dis-connect with our true feelings and hide them. Therefore, to explore these parts of our ‘locked away’ psyche, can be absolutely terrifying. Only by training in a safe space, repeatedly, for years, will you develop the elastic flexibility to bounce between connection to different parts of your entire packaged, highly emotionally intelligent being, without losing your s**t and being locked away!
So, you can connect? Amazing news. Now you have to move on to connecting, whilst achieving an objective by playing actions, overcoming obstacles and stretching your imagination even further. You must move to playing your inner and covering it with an outer. To delivering all these complexities whilst filling a 1000 seater venue with your vocal strength or maintaining your continuity over several takes.
It’s simple, but it isn’t easy!