Objective: Students will be able to create believable emotions by completing a sensory/emotional memory activity with their scene.
Starter: Write on the board, “How do you create real emotion on stage?”
Allow students to answer.
I decided to start off with this question because this is something many people struggle with. Often we think sadness looks like tears, and happiness is lots of smiles. While this is true, the emotion should look like it is being felt for the first time every time. Today we are going to do some activities that will help us to bring fresh emotion every time we run through our scene. Let’s hop on the stage!
Instruction 1: Sense Memory.
Once upon a time, there was this great theatre artist in Russia named Stanislavski. Much of the acting methods that we’ve studied in this unit have been based on his ideas because in many ways, he is the father of modern acting. He came up with a concept called sensory memory, or sensory recall.
Has anyone ever heard of this before?
Can someone take a crack at what this might mean?
It means to use memories, or remembered feelings of sensory experiences as substitution for what the character is feeling.
What are our 5 senses?
Let me give you an example from my own acting experiences that might help. One time I had to pretend like I was feeling disgusted and ill for a scene I was doing. To do this, I recalled an experience with my older brother from when I was about 8 years old. I had just eaten one of my mom’s protein bars for breakfast. When I went outside to wait for the car pool, my brother and his friend were goofing off. He told me to open my mouth and close my eyes. I said, “no” to which he responded, “I’m your big brother. I’m never going to let anything happen to you.” Being convinced, I did what he said. He then shoved one of those blowing dandelions deep into my mouth. I then I almost threw up some nasty mix of dandy lion seeds and protein bars. I was able to not do that, but I had a moment of extreme feelings of sickness.
When I use this memory, I don’t think of the whole situation. I don’t need to remember the betrayal, or the hate I felt. I just need to remember that moment of being sick.
(Demonstrating while describing this.) I remembered that moment when I first felt the tickling of the plant in my mouth. It felt suffocating. I stopped breathing, and the breath felt like it was stuck at the top of my throat. (Show yourself gagging.) As I began to gag, my stomach clenched, causing me to hunch over more.
But how do you recall a feeling like this while also doing your blocking and remembering your lines?
Some things that people do are
Remember the trigger. For me, it’s either that feeling of the dandelion, or even just the smell of protein bars. It brings it all back.
Activity 1: Practice
Step 1: Let’s all get on our feet, and practice doing sensory recall. Take a second to close your eyes and think about a time when you were very cold. What happened to your body when you were cold? What parts of your body were cold? Did you shiver? Where did the shivering start from? Was it from deep in your chest?
Step 2: On three, open your eyes, and begin walking as if you were cold.
What was your experience?
Instruction 2: Emotional Memory
We’ll do more of this in a minute. Remembering our sensory experiences is helpful, but what about our emotional experiences? We can recall those as well. Once again, it is better to think of that moment, or that trigger than to think of the entire memory.
For example, I dated the same guy all of high school. My senior year, we had a nasty break-up. When I was in college I remembered once distinct instance when I called him and he didn’t answer. It was after a very tragic thing happened in my family, and I needed a friend more than ever. Instead of remembering the whole thing, I just remember sitting in the car and listening to the dial.
Once again, my breathing was off, and felt short. I could feel my heart large and open in my chest, causing my shoulders and diaphragm to tense. I closed myself off physically. My mind was focused on only one thing, or my objective: to get him to answer or care. Then his voicemail came on, and then everything changed. I had put so much energy and tense feelings into believing he would answer. When he didn’t, it was released in large breaths.
I used this when I had to play Catherine in Proof, in a scene where her father has just died and she thinks one of his former students is stealing his work. It was totally out of context in a way, but the feeling of betrayal was the same.
Activity 2: Emotional Memory
Step 1: Stand up and loosen up your body. It is best to start from a neutral place. No hands in your pockets. Feet shoulder width apart. Close your eyes and think of a time when something made you laugh really hard. Think of what happened in that experience. What was your breathing like? Did you cheeks hurt from so much tension? What about your stomach? Was there tension there? Did it feel like it was splitting? What was the trigger?
Step 2: On three, we are all going to open our eyes and recreate the experience. 1-2-3!
What was your experience?
How was this similar or different than sensory recall?
Activity 3: Using memory in your scene.
Step 1: I want you to think of a moment in your script that you feel you connect to. Maybe it’s a moment when your character is feeling angry, or when your character is feeling eager. I want you to connect it to something that has ever happened to you.
Step 2: Now, with your partner, I want you two to act out that part. Decide who gets to go first. Now, the other partner should do their best to be in the moment and in the scene. Don’t allow yourself to break into giggles or get out of character. On three, we’ll all act out that part together. Ready? 1-2-3..
Step 3: Great! Now, switch and go to the moment partner B was thinking of.
How well did it work?
Did this inform your scene at all?
Activity 4: Rehearsal
The rest of the time is yours to rehearse. If you would like to pass of memorization or do the listening activity for candy, just find me and let’s do it!
Conclusion: If you are not memorized, you HAVE TO be memorized for next class!