Intellectually, you know what emotions are required of you for a performance and you know when it feels authentic within you but - you can't seem to go there.
Not being able to access the emotional state that you need for your performance is considered an emotional block and can lead to pitfalls.
Or have you used your past experiences, or that devastating loss that happened to you in order make your performance look and feel real, only to find that it didn't work or it doesn't work every time? Some are able to tap into those emotions from the past, and it may work, for the moment, and it's powerful, it's cathartic. Once you've done that though, then what? What about having to do the same performance again and again or again years later for a different role. Does the same method spark the same passionate real emotion, spontaneity and rawness? If you're honest with yourself, it does not, because it doesn't last.
Your performance may look like disconnected actions because you have unleashed raw untapped and unprocessed emotions without any control or artistry.
Frankly, you walk off stage feeling relieved but you don't even remember what just occurred. Whether you've underreacted or exaggerated an emotion and whether it makes sense in the storyline eludes you, and even worse, it eludes the audience. I'd prefer not to perform with such risk. God forbid, if you're asked to do it again and again, night after night or retake after retake.
When we don't understand how our past emotional history influences our current behavior, or when we don't completely grieve our losses it makes us hypervigilant and go into self-protective mode, cautioning ourselves, therefore blocking openness to further pain.
This block can limit our capabilities to be open to new experiences, new relationships and even new aspects of characters and roles we play. How could you, as an actor, trust yourself to fully experience the complexity of emotions that is rooted truthfully within you?
Usually it's because of a self-protective measure built, or a wall, due to unprocessed, incomplete or unfinished emotions we've not fully experienced and fully expressed from loss.
Note, loss is not limited to death, but can be any sense of loss of something once hoped for or relied on that is no longer there when you need it. These losses can result from death, divorce, and relationships with living people, like parents, siblings and friends (James & Freidman)
In this article, I will introduce a method to help begin to complete or finish the emotions within those relationships that you have lost. Recovering from a loss doesn't mean forgetting the loss. This is not about forgetting but rather discovering what was unfinished at the time of the loss and finishing it. The physical aspect of the relationship may have changed or ended but the emotional still remains in our memory.
When you fully grieve you are able to access a fuller range of emotions and have an awareness about how and what you need for your performance.
You will have more artistic range and power of choosing triggers that makes sense in the storyline of your character. Add this layer to the imaginary circumstance will enhance your acting and lend a masterful work of art that is intentional, emotionally connected and truthful.
Throughout the process you must:
Commit to recovering from the grief. This is when you decide if you want short-term or long-term relief. Identify behaviors and thoughts that are considered escapes or short-term relievers that interfere with progress, i.e. drugs, alcohol, sex, anger, exercise, dieting, fantasy(movies, TV, books), isolation, shopping, etc. Unfortunately, misinformation, myths or advice vast in our society makes this self-protection from our emotions worse, like; don't feel bad, replace the loss, grieve alone, just give it time, be strong for others, keep busy. It is important that throughout these steps you are aware how this misinformation and escapes contributes to further pain.
Take responsibility for your feelings. Be honest with yourself, there is no right answer or wrong, just the truth. Making others responsible for your feelings or reactions to circumstances also makes them responsible for ending those feelings.
Find a partner whom you can trust. If this is not possible, working through the exercises can be done alone. Ideally, you would have a partner that you will meet with several times, who is also going to work through their own loss as well. Here's a few guidelines for the partner's meeting: During your meetings you will share with each other your discoveries for each task for about 30 minutes, give or take. Meet somewhere private where you are comfortable to cry. The talking partner may ask for a hug after sharing (if it has been established hugs are ok). When you are the listener imagine being a heart with ears, sit at a reasonable distance, you may laugh or cry when appropriate, but do not talk. While is might be tempting, do not touch, touch usually stops feelings. Both partners abide by absolute confidentiality, respect the uniqueness and individuality of each other's recovery. There can be break between partner's turn to discuss misinformation or escapes or just take a short beak before the next partner shares their discoveries.
In the following, I have outlined 5 steps to begin to complete and finish the emotions within those relationships lost:
Create a Loss History graph. This is a timeline of losses for you over the course of your life, and identify which loss has been the greatest to impact your day-to-day life.
Choose a loss to complete. Ask yourself, what do you wish had been different, better, or more? Answering this question will help you know what is incomplete. This is when we are able to take responsibility for how bad you feel, instead of blaming the loss itself.
Complete a relationship graph for this particular loss. This graph should include positive and negative events. Without any judgement write or express to your partner your thoughts and feelings about each event. Try to recall at least ten events on a timeline.
Make your apologies, forgiveness and significant emotional statements. Convert the relationship graph events in three categories: apologies, forgiveness, significant emotional statements. Apologies for anything you did or did not do that might of hurt someone. Forgiveness is the action, not the feeling, of giving up the hope of a different or better yesterday. Significant emotional statements are any undelivered emotional communication that is not an apology or about forgiveness. for example, I love you, I hated you, I was very proud of you, I was very ashamed of you, and/or thank you.
Putting it all together in your parting letter. Much like a farewell letter, however, you would have done a thorough, deep honest discovery and reflection of the relationship to conclude what has been unfinished for you. Write the letter alone with no distractions. This may or may be a painful process for you, don't judge yourself, you're already courageous. Then, ending your letter with 'Good-bye'. If you are working alone, find a safe person to share your letter and explain the guidelines of being your listener, and absolute confidentiality.
Remember, finishing or completing these relationships doesn't mean you will not feel pain or be sad again, instead it allows you to return to a full range of emotions. As an actor, you now have more access to emotions that are consistent with the stories you will tell, hopefully alleviating significant emotional blocks, resistance or fear. You can tap into memories that you probably wouldn't have been aware of had you not done a deep dive in your graphs. You now can extract triggers, objects, or imagery, etc., from these memories for emotional prep without the same level of emotional blocks, resistance, fear or hesitation, as you would have without doing this work.
This is THE WORK that you can do to elevate your performances for yourself, and for the stories you share with your audiences.
I am not a grief professional and this article is based solely on my experience participating in a Grief Recovery (c) group and on how I've used this process to grieve my own personal losses and how it has also enriched my acting. I do not represent the founders of this method.
For additional resources and support on grief, please see check out www.grief.net and/or check out the handbook for detailed instruction on how to build relationship graphs, instructions for working through grief with a partner. For additional books about moving through loss click here. If you are needing further support beyond the scope of this article, I strongly urge you to seek a professional or counseling.
Until next time.
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