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Like many actors I found it pretty tough to genuinely cry on stage or feel extreme anger or laugh hardily at a witty comment delivered by a scene partner. How could I cry, get angry or laugh at subjects I had no connection to? I felt fake and unnatural.

Lately, this topic has popped up a lot in lessons. My students are getting “stuck” trying to naturally portray an emotion, it comes across “hokey” and feels and looks pretty silly. I know exactly how they feel, I have been there! This is where a technique coined by Stanislavsky comes into play; Emotional Memory.

Emotional memory is a system of acting in which the actor does not “act” happy or sad but remembers a situation when he/she felt the same way as their character and recalling that specific situation leads to emotion. It is important in this exercise that actors do not force the memory or bring up something hurtful. Stanislavsky says “this is a play, not therapy.” Actors can also use situations they are not directly involved with, something they saw, read or heard.

Another system that may be used by actors to get an emotion brewing is Sense Memory. This is an off shoot of Emotional Memory. The actor remembers a memory and tries to put all five senses to the memory. What did the actor see, hear, taste, touch, smell?

Both of these techniques are so helpful when an actor may be stuck with a character’s specific situation. So next time you get in a rut, think about the time your dog ran away and let the tears flow or that hilarious episode of Seinfeld and allow yourself a good chuckle! It works, it really works!


Submitted by: MRandall


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