As an organic company with a focus on intense plays, we tend to work on material that requires huge breakdowns onstage. This season alone, we've done Closer and Three Sisters, both of which call for large swaths of emotion. People are constantly asking:
How are we able to bring ourselves to tears in our work on a nightly basis?
The answer is going to seem unsatisfactory: We insist on a belief in the situation. We don't insist on crying. In point of fact, it's rarely necessary to actually cry. If an actor and an audience believes a situation to be real, then the amount of emotion is inconsequential. The simplest truth goes a long way. Marlon Brando used to say, "A little bit of blood is still blood." - and that's coming from man constantly regarded as the most sensitive actor ever...who cried ONCE in his film work (Last Tango in Paris). Crying without a supported reality is about as effective as a faked orgasm. You may fool the audience, but you'll never get the satisfaction you were looking for.
Generally, when actors are called upon to cry, they think they need to create a time in their lives when they were that distraught. Especially considering that The Seeing Place builds shows organically, people assume that we encourage people to go back in their lives and find a time to relive onstage. Many even think that people like Lee Strasberg built his whole teaching career around this theme. This has to be the biggest piece of misinformation about "THE METHOD".
There was a sign above Lee Strasberg's office when he was alive. The sign read, "It's not about emotion." People seem to think that his work revolved around "Emotional Memory". That couldn't be further from the truth. First of all, you can't work on an "Emotional Memory". You have to create an Affective Memory (the circumstances of a past experience), which may or may not lead to an Emotional Memory. But we can't work for emotions. Emotions are like deer - if you confront them, they run away.
Even with that, Affective Memory is the most talked about and least done exercise of Strasberg's. He even said that if you work on more than one or two Affective Memories in an entire lifetime, then you're probably a leading actor with a focus in the classics. I've been studying Lee's work for seven years. I still haven't worked on an Affective Memory - and I've only seen it done a few times in class.
Emotions take care of themselves. Really, what is of importance to create is the character's situation. If I come home from work to this dramatic break-up scene, then all I need do to break down in some kind of a way is to believe that my scene partner is someone I want to come home to. The script will take it from there. I don't need to create the time when my heart was broken. I can literally let my heart be broken on a nightly basis.
The moral of the story: Reality is much bigger than real tears. Acting isn't crying - it's believing.
Now, let's say that your director INSISTS that you must CRY RIGHT HERE AT THIS POINT IN THE SCENE!...
Here's what Strasberg would say (with a smile):
"Okay. Good. First, what I would
do is to do nothing. What if you were going to cry anyway, and
if you just RELAX, the tears will come? If that doesn't work, then I
like to go way upstage where people can't see and pull a nose-hair.
That brings tears to my eyes. If I've pulled so many nose-hairs that I have none left, then I fake it
- there's an audience out there! And then I figure out that night why I
needed to do that and what needs to be addressed in my work."
Thoughts? Experiences? Share with us!