When you cry you really cry: Playing with actors' emotions

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In 2018, post Harvey Weinstein, post #MeToo, post #TimesUp, post #NotInmyTheater, the state of our global performing arts industry has undoubtedly been brought into question. Actor training alike, has responded to some sort of cultural shift. Institutions and trainers have been interrogated and held accountable for their unorthodox teaching methods that were once deemed as acceptable. While, these indecencies have commonly been associated with sexual misconduct, it does bring into question the whole l integrity that such power imbalances can have on all actor training. Such as, with “Emotional Acting” and the irreversible repercussions that some psychological acting exercises can have and have had on young susceptible individuals.

Many methods to actor training in Australia teach actors how to engage in an authentic emotional performance. However, when it comes to teaching ‘emotional acting’ despite varying safe techniques available, Constantin Stanislavski’s “Emotional Memory” (or Emotional Recall) is still favoured amongst most schools and teachers. At its most basic, Emotional Memory asks actors to use an emotional moment from their past that is analogous to how the character is feeling [at the time]. The idea being that, once the actor thinks back to where they were in their own lives when that emotion took place, then they are able to connect it to the character and portray the emotional stakes of that character/scene truthfully. But at what cost?

Numerous research states that, while Emotional Memory can be effective it needs to be done in a controlled and safe environment and even then, actors may lose themselves so far into their past emotional state(s), that then they are left vulnerable and distressed once the “acting” is over. Furthermore, there is an argument that this method of acting can be indulgent and forces the actor feel self-conscious to the point where they are taken right out of the play – defeating the goal of an authentic performance in the first place.

The suggestion that there are actually distinctions to great acting that is derived from psychological means verses non-psychological means, has been promoted so often that, it is easy to assume there is in fact some science to back it up. However, that is not the case at all. It seems that its more of a myth perpetuated by Hollywood tradition, which is filled with reverential stories about famed methods that actors have delved into, so deeply, that they almost permanently lost themselves in character. This valued folklore seems to trickle down into young susceptible actors who believe that unless they too submit themselves to similar physiological struggles, their performance will never hold up to their celebrities.

My paper will look at the changing responsibilities and realities of actor training practitioners in Australia and offer new techniques that support the ever changing cultural landscape of the industry. And that, the idea that “when you cry you really cry”, counters the very underpinnings of great acting and leads so many actors into such dangerous territory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-163
Number of pages10
JournalFusion Journal
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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