Great Actors Do Not Force Themselves to Cry - Acting Classes in NYC
- By: Kirk Baltz
Actors who study the Meisner Technique are likely familiar with the term the actors instrument. Making a comparison between acting and an instrument is helpful in categorizing aspects of the acting craft and what makes a good actor. Audience members are quick to determine whether actors are portraying a new reality well enough to hold their attention. But, can we pinpoint what makes us feel that way? In fact, it is the actors instrument and how well rounded and how well developed it is.
The actors instrument is comprised of six different elements, all important. Those elements include emotional expression, sensory expression, physical expression, empathy and intelligence. Mastering the craft of acting with the Meisner Technique requires that all six aspects of the instrument are well developed. If you run down the categories mentioned, anyone even slightly interested in acting should be able to name successful actors who have mastered several of these aspects of expression. Legendary actors are those that have mastered all six.
Take, for example, Sylvester Stallone who is know for his commanding physical presence and physical expression. Stallone is certainly able to express emotionally, but overall his most powerful tool onscreen is his physical expression. As an actor he expresses emotional in a very physical, often external way. This is why actors must focus on learning about each and every aspect of the instrument, so that they can be as well rounded as possible.
Emotional expression is one of the first things most up and coming actors focus on. Obsessing about how a character feels about something and how to express it is usually the primary thing actors concentrate on. One of the most important, but certainly not the only tool to master is the emotional expression aspect of the actors instrument. Each of the six aspects need to be studied and mastered so that they can all work together.
Meaning in a story is derived mainly from the emotional expression of its characters. It is through this kind of expression that the audience is drawn in to the story. It is common in classes teaching Meisner acting in nyc to create an emotional history of a character, imagine it in detail and then use all the aspects of the instrument to express them. Students of Meisner acting must study the range of human emotions in all their complexity. They work hard to create a foundation of human emotion and way of communicating based on real people and fictional characters. When a specific character needs to be presented, these then delve more deeply and specifically into imagining (another aspect of the instrument) what the character's emotions feel like. Having created a full emotional life and a foundation of behaviors, thoughts and ways of reacting, the actor can then bring the character to life, in the moment, in a spontaneous way.
Take as an example, vulnerability which is an expression of insecurity or perhaps innocence or even strength. Actors might work hard to develop this emotion and the complex ways it can be expressed. But, unless they have developed other aspects of their instrument, such as empathy or intelligence, the character will not be authentic. Vulnerability might be expressed by smashing a vase to pieces, or by simply sitting still and the challenge is to use ways appropriate to the character. These are very nuanced yet, essential things to study.
The myth is that acting is simply pretending to have an emotion. However, acting is not simply reciting words using certain inflections and gestures to communicate emotions. Sanford Meisner was often heard to say, "acting is DOING." In other words acting is being in the moment and allowing any number of emotional reactions well up and take you over and turn you into the actual character. Great acting is, moment by moment, opening up to the character and allowing them to take you places you may not have imagined. Great actors do not force themselves to cry. They feel genuine, strong emotions and a sense of grief or loss and images makes them cry. This process requires that an actor develop the capacity to create and feel true sensations, and then express that through all channels of their instrument. Actors must give themselves permission to feel strong emotions, and express them (or not, if the role requires it) in physical, intelligent, empathetic ways.
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