The Actor and The Emotion. Be truthful to the moment.

In Acting, emoting is channelling your personal emotions through the text and character.

The portal of truth for that human being you may be rehearsing or performing can be created by choices from your own body of experience, sure, however it isn’t you up there and at some stage the new responses you learn are the character’s and are not yours. A Character’s emotions can be pure when you are a conduit for the communication of the character’s truth.

Whatever response that may be, is accessed by being real, honest and ‘not telling a lie’ which was the best advice I ever received from a director Bill Bryden who in rehearsal came over and whispered in my ear – ‘Never – tell a lie – on stage” which in that moment was the inspiration I needed and a bit of careful guidance, no doubt.

As a therapist, I’ve been approached by an actor today for coaching and therapy,  concerned that if they let go of their emotion about a traumatic memory that’s upsetting them, will it make them ‘numb’ as an actor and will they not be able to ‘use it’. The answer is – it will enhance you as an actor both as a functioning human being and clearing the way for the performing.

Clearing emotions from the past won’t make you a less effective actor. It clears the pane for the character’s emotions to shine though rather than being coloured by your own past events and perspectives.

I think a technique of NLP anchoring responses is often confused. There are ways that the brilliant actress and teacher, Uta Hagen, wrote about when developing the character.  Uta once said “when I go to the theatre, if I can see the acting I already don’t like it”.

I’ve seen the channelling of emotion from drama school and suspect I have seen it in the west end when suddenly aware of an energy gear change and incongruence and being an actress by training, suspecting a lazy moment of bad acting in front of me or ‘pretend’ emotion which is frankly just as poor. We can do any emotion at any moment and create it within our bodies. That goes for everyone not just trained actors.

I’ve worked as an actress and now am a professional coach and therapist to many, including, actors, singers and performers. I’m aware about a general concern around emotion. In acting its used for effect to tell a story and affect the audience making them think about what they are witnessing. If you begin practising using bad past experiences to fuel emotions in the role it is both unhealthy and frankly, is poor technique. Your own past traumas are unresolved emotional issues ‘coded’ in a way that suspends a way of representing that past event to yourself. You may keep replaying the past memories and getting upset by them over and over until you learn enough to gain a new perspective and change the frequency/emotion of that particular memory. That’s a human experience. Thinking ‘I know what makes me sad’ and drudging it up, is, to me, not acting.

Emotions and emoting on stage or in character as an actor or actress

It’s collection of past trauma and digging it up ready for public airing.

Being In The Moment, a phrase actors are keen to surf during all performance. Time travelling backwards to a past event that was sad, made you angry or scared is not being in the Now. You are then no longer the character but you on stage or on set just being dressed as the character having a therapy moment ‘doing your emotive bit now’ rather than listening, truly listening and having your physiology respond…(and here is the caveat) having the physiology respond after instructing your subconscious mind that you are playing a role.

There are techniques I show actors on how to achieve this – or actors really do live through it ‘as though it is theirs’ that common phrase – ‘I turn into the character’ and ‘I become the role’ spring to mind. That ‘stuff’ of the character’s isn’t yours either! There are techniques I have developed that can begin this proccess for you to continue in rehearsal and dressing room space.

Be careful what you say to yourself you may believe it! You are bathed in neutrons eavesdropping on your thoughts – a beautiful way of explaining subconscious response by Deepak Chopra.

Actors may find it difficult to separate the two states, their own resting state and that of the character’s journey of emotion and processes, when doing a run. From experience I can recommend that it is healthier to learn how to use your mind in a way that creates instruction to your mind and body manager, the subconscious and that can go a long way to protect you. As a hypnotherapist I can help you discover how easy that is.

For the sake of example and to hold my hand up, I will admit, I did once use this poor technique myself as a back up reliance for a part.  I thought that tapping into a well of unresolved emotions about an issue of my own seemed worthy. There was a particular scene where I was required to access a response on stage every night in a particular way. What happened was that I would get to that moment in the play then suddenly in a flash I would think of that past personal moment and ‘bam’ a well of emotion flared up and I could ‘use it‘. I almost am embarrassed to admit it even after amazing training with top acting teachers, this moment was seductive to me, that I could use that similarity with my own past to access that hotline to my own ‘stuff’!  What also happened was that I ran out of that ‘once deep well’ of emotion part way through the run! Served me right. I had to work more effectively and use techniques that supported truth for that moment. Because in essence – using your own emotions on stage is not truthful – it’s indulgent! It used to certainly do the trick – but that’s all it was, a trick. I would never do that now, for a variety of reasons, truth, listening, being in the moment are important and least of which is my own mental health.

In the anniversary of Mental health Week in the UK, it brings to mind so many mental health issues in the acting community and having recent discussions with both actors and staff at a top drama school, I am not surprised at the rise in the problem. The consensus of opinion, whether accurate or not, is that somehow the training adds to the issue.

I want to look after the talent and our actors. Often described as ‘sensitive’ and ‘flakey’ do we expect our actors to be those things and if they aren’ flakey or sensitive emotionally in some way is it too their detriment?

 There are some expectations for actors to be able to access their own stuff and somehow use it. I prefer to perceive it thus – access your own ability to be human! And use that!

In the industry that requires an absolute iron rod belief in themselves, their ability, to weather rejection and reframe disappointments as a learning experience and ‘bounce back’. They are expected to be highly receptive to suggestion, flexible to changes, be creative and to also ultimately be their own boss and know how to market themselves. Working actors are a marvel. They are strong, flexible and creative – more so they are willing to fail in order to succeed which is the process of the rehearsal to eliminate options and practice possibilities making the odds on having a less than marvellous moment in front of their peers, an inevitability. That takes a lot of character strength.

The actors I know that work in the industry consistently that seem to weather the storm of the emotional rollercoaster are often those who dissociate their own emotions about the business and treat it as a business! They have a business attitude to their craft and they work at it. They also cultivate a level of humour about themselves and the business, whilst knowing when to commit to an emotion on the job when required.

So do your health a favour, get therapy, clear ‘your stuff’ and respond truthfully in the moment as the character!


Diane Beck is an NLP Hypnotherapist and Coach with coaching rooms in both central London and Manchester.