Being an actor can often mean being called on to display painful, terrible or even ugly emotions. (Unless you are just faking it on Neighbours or Home and Away.) So where are those scary emotions going to come from? You probably have never attacked or murdered anyone, tortured or terrorised them. So how are you going to make the emotion real, on stage, or on camera? One aspect of Stanislavsky’s method acting is to find an analogy for the emotion you are asked to portray. That is, to think back in your past and find a time when the feeling you experienced then could be used in a different situation now. Here is an example.
Hayes Gordon, (who founded the Ensemble Theatre Company in Sydney) originally came to Australia in 1963 to play Tevye, the traditional Jewish father of seven daughters in the first Australian production of Fiddler On The Roof. During the course of this musical, many of his daughters defy their father in different ways and he tolerates it, albeit unwillingly, because he loves them. But then, one daughter goes off to marry a gentile, a non-Jew. And, rightly or wrongly, this he absolutely cannot accept. This daughter is banished from her home and family; she is no longer a daughter of his. But Tevye loves her and it is the most painful moment in the musical for him. After sending her on her way, he breaks down and cries. Hayes Gordon had to find a way of crying, each night, on stage. So, in rehearsal, he went to Stanislavsky’s method and found an analogous situation, one that had originally made him cry. Some time before, he had had a little dog to which he was very attached. The dog got run over and killed, and Gordon was so upset that he cried. It was this incident in his past that he used, each night on stage, to produce the tears for his daughter who was now lost to him.
There is a technique attached to accessing a past emotion and making it real again, and that can be explained by your teacher or in a later blog. But can you see the problem? In order to produce those tears, Gordon had to have access to the event that was their origin. It would have been no use if he had buried it so deep that there was no way he could get to it.
This applies to you as an actor. Bad things can’t be allowed to cripple us for life. But, if you truly want to be an actor, you have to learn how to file them away, keep them from being destructive, and yet have them available whenever you might need them.
So how are you going to do it?