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July 5, 2014 / Amy Bradney-George

Acting, Emotions and Human Nature

The relationship between acting and emotions is clear, but where does human nature fit into this dynamic?

This question has been on my mind for a while now, and often comes to the fore when I’m in a production or watching theatre, film or an acting workshop.

On the one hand, an actor’s job is to live authentically within the circumstances they are given – which means being a human being, with all of the nature (and nurture) that brings with it. That in itself is often enough of a challenge to keep us busy with home work and preparation.

But, on the other hand, we are also living, breathing human beings, separate but entwined with the characters we play. Great acting requires complete commitment to the given circumstances and the moment, and in a sense that means the actor must surrender to that reality, giving up their own life temporarily in order to be real in a different way.

The challenge that I think we often miss is that human beings don’t want to feel everything. Human nature (and social conditioning) has shaped our views of emotional states, creating judgments around certain feelings.

Showing and expressing anger, sadness, embarrassment, envy and many other feelings is not something human beings openly and freely tend to do. At least not 100%.

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But actors have to feel these things 100%. We’re often put into situations that we would hate in real life. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to embrace these moments and explore things we can’t fully express in our own reality, but sometimes it’s confronting and challenging and incredibly scary.

And that’s where the challenge really is. Part of us, as actors, wants to explore these emotions and this work so that we can become real in the circumstances we’re given. Another part wants to stop us from feeling thinks like hurt, embarrassment, betrayal, abandonment, devastation, bitchiness or whatever the scene calls for.

I think these conflicting parts of our selves are often the cause for common actor problems. Human beings tend to do everything we can to not show how we feel or say what we want in everyday situations – and there are all kinds of “tools” we can use to do so, such as “collecting” ourselves before broaching a subject with someone, keeping busy with other tasks, lying etc etc.

Actors, bless us, have even more tools. We can use the script. We can pre-shape moments so that we “know” how to act, react and feel. That’s a real safety net for our human nature when you think about it.

These ideas all really me yesterday when I was auditing Howard Fine’s Master Class in Melbourne. I could see the struggles and I could see the actors overcoming those struggles, letting the challenges be in the moments rather than between their two realities. That is the goal.

At one point, Howard Fine said something that struck me as relevant not only to my theories about human nature and feelings in acting, but also in life: “The fear of feeling must not over power the need to experience.”

So it can be scary, whether it’s feeling in acting work or in life, but acknowledging and fully expressing emotions leads to more complete experiences and fulfilment in every moment.

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One Comment

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  1. theapostrophe / Jul 5 2014 8:44 pm

    I love that quote, too often we experience our commentary of our experience, rather than the reality that is playing out with us inside it. Our fear of “X” so easily dominates and becomes our experience.

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