Drummers practice rudiments. Pianists practice scales. Ballet dancers practice their exercises. Dramatic storytellers need lessons and rudiments, too. We're here to provide a few.
Motion from Emotions
Try this: sit in a chair or on the floor. Imagine something oozing toward you, something really nasty. Realize what it is. Move. Because you would, right? It's rational to move in that circumstance.
Try it again, but this time you don't realize what this oozing mess is. As it begins to become something identifiable — a toxic chemical, a mass of garbage, blood — let yourself imagine it very specifically. What color is it? What does it smell like? How well can you see it? Did you smell it first or see it first? What is it? As you understand the specifics of this oozing mess, react to them. Let your reaction move you, not the ooze. Once you've moved, let it go. Shake it off.
You may want to try the second part of this exercise a few different times to really let your emotions move you. It should be a reaction, not an action you originate. The difference can be very subtle. You can also try it with other emotions and altered circumstances: joy when you realize someone you love has entered the room, anticipation for a long-sought announcement, anger at someone's abuse of an animal. One of those may make this exercise clearer for you.
Any dramatic story — play, musical, movie, game — is driven by the emotions of its characters. Each character is driven by a desire to change something in their lives: create a relationship, right a wrong, seek power. When the desire (that's an emotion) for change becomes overwhelming, the character has to move, has to do something. That's where playwrights and screenwriters start. Since they create the blueprints for the work of an actor, that's where you should begin, too.
Beginning actors often start with the idea that the words in their scripts are scraps of information, that lines like "I will be queen" or "I want you to marry me" are bits of knowledge the audience needs to understand the story. That's not wrong, but there's more. The writer wrote those words because the character was emotionally driven to say those words at that moment. Words are actions, too. When you deliver the lines written with their underlying emotions, the audience will understand the story intellectually and — better — in their guts. And that's where we want to hit them with our stories.
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Thoughts and lessons you can use to improve your abilities in dramatic storytelling