Emotion acting exercises are a great way to make the scene come alive. If you are new to acting, you might notice even after a great deal of preparation, you don’t feel it.
The words are mere coming out of your mouth, you don’t feel them.
If you want to feel everything you say and do in a scene, you have to do the acting exercises.
And if you are not doing these exercises your body won’t be tuned to receive or give emotions during a scene.
Here I have compiled some of the most effective and easy to do exercises so that you can feel the emotions every time you act.
What Are The Different Emotions In Acting?
Before you begin with exercises you must know what the different emotions are.
Humans have complex emotions but they are all made up of nine basic emotions. According to old Indian texts on acting these emotions are called Nav Rasas which clearly list the basic emotions used in acting. These are:
Try to think about what it feels like when you are experiencing each emotion. Your past experiences give a lot of ideas.
You can also watch movies or engaging scenes to get an idea about each emotion.
I personally take note of my experiences. Whenever I am feeling some emotion I observe my physical as well as psychological reactions. Even if it is the lightest emotion, try to take a note.
You can use either a notepad or an app like Evernote. It is a great app to have for organizing notes.
Seven Emotion Acting Exercises
Now you have an idea about what these emotions are, let’s see what are useful emotion acting exercises that can give depth to your acting.
1. How Do I Feel?
Before you start emoting these emotions you must learn to acknowledge them.
Why do you acknowledge them?
Before going on stage or in front of the camera, you are a real living person who is going through multiple emotions.
You have to leave that emotion behind before you start living the fictional life of the character. The best way to do that is to identify it and acknowledge it.
This exercise is from Eric Morris’s acting technique, you can learn more about it from his book No Acting Please ( Click here to check out the book on Amazon).
According to Morris once you acknowledge it, it goes on the backburner and your mind-body is more open for new stimuli.
You can do these exercises whenever you want and wherever you want. It doesn’t need any rehearsal stage or set. You can practice these exercises even in the grocery store.
I am going to tell you how you can do this exercise the right way:
Direction To Follow:
1. Whatever you are doing, instantly start asking yourself a question “How Do I Feel”. Answer the question with whatever you are feeling at that moment.
If you feel happy, say I feel happy. If you feel sad, say I feel sad.
Whatever is the feeling say it in words either in your mind or loudly, it’s your choice.
2. Once you answer, ask the same question again.
“How Do I Feel?”
Answer whatever you are feeling.
Keep asking the same question and answer it with what you feel.
Do this for a few minutes.
Doing this exercise you will realize that you have a lot of emotions, as you acknowledge one you are hit by another.
But just by acknowledging it, you can make it go away.
Try to do this exercise 2-3 times a day. It won’t be hard because you don’t need any place. You are doing it in your mind.
2. Following The Emotion In The Script
You won’t be able to play any emotion unless you understand and feel the words given by the writer.
As an actor, you need to have great script breakdown skills. When you break down a script, you need to find the beats, underlying meaning, obstacles, emotion, and also where the change of emotions occurs.
When it comes to approaching breaking down a script, I like the Ivana Chubbuck method. It is a complete acting technique that keeps the script analysis to its center. That’s why I like to use it for script breakdown.
If you want to learn more you can buy her book from Amazon.
So do you use this method?
Follow these directions:
1. Take the scene you want to practice. With the help of a pencil start making the beats.
Beat in a script is nothing but a point where the thought of the character changes or the objective of the character changes.
2. Once you have marked the beats, it’s time to analyze them. In order to find the emotion behind each beat, you need to determine the objective of the character in that beat.
And the objective is defined by what does the character want from another character in that beat.
3. Write the objective for each beat in the scene for your character. If the character wants love from the other character, write the objective to be loved. If your character wants an explanation from another character, write the objective to be truthful.
Whatever may be the objective behind it you will have to write in the active form which suggests an action.
A research paper on Frontiers in Psychology, suggests that actions are followed by emotions or action evoke emotions.
4. In the last step we talked about the action, once you write the objective for each beat, you must write down the action for each beat.
5. Now try to perform each action while performing the scene and let the action evoke emotions.
This is a great exercise not just for evoking emotions, but it is a standalone exercise that will give you an entire process of the script to performance.
This is why I prefer using this method for breaking down the script. I suggest you must read the Ivana Chubbuck book if you want to go deeper into this process.
3. Practice Crying
I have dedicated a complete exercise to crying. Crying is part of many emotions like sadness and happiness.
But the unique thing about crying is that it can be seen by the audience because of the tears.
If the script demands that you should tear up in the scene, you will have to show the tears.
There are artificial methods to do that with the help of glycerine but here you are looking for truthful acting.
As a true actor, you would want to feel the real emotions because that’s more fun than a glycerine in your eyes.
There are many acting techniques that provide ways to cry. I am going to give my favorite method but you visit my other post to learn other methods to cry on cue.
My method involves creating an imaginary situation using the real person from your life and substituting it in the scene. How it can be done practically?
Follow These Directions:
1. First read the script carefully and understand the situation given by the writer. I suggest breakdown the script using the above method. So that you know the emotions.
2. Once you have understood the scene and you have broken down the script which includes objectives, and actions, you need to substitute the character with the real person from your real life.
3. Choose a person from your reality that is close to the character or you can choose the person with whom you have been in a situation similar to a scene. This way you won’t have to work for the connection with the character. You can use the existing connection from real life.
4. For instance the objective of the scene is to be loved, you can replace the character with the person from who you expect love in real life.
5. Substitution is an art in itself. It could take up the whole post if I describe the technique. But for now, just remember to substitute the character with a real person using your senses. This means trying to see the real person in character, may substitute the cloth, substitute the smell, substitute the touch and even substitute the voice you hear. Everything will occur in mind.
6. AFter that whatever you say or do should be meant for the person in your life. You should really mean it. This way you will be able to create real emotions. If these emotions are real, the tears will be real.
One issue with this method is you need to be highly sensitive to experience the emotions. One way to overcome this is to choose the person with whom you have a strong connection.
4. Create Backstories
Emotions can be generated if you have a strong connection with the character. The backstories are a great way to create that connection.
For me, the backstory is nothing but a part of building character. I personally use 100 questions to build a character.
By answering these 100 questions I am able to know every aspect of the character as well as the relation he or she shares with the other characters.
Especially when you know what kind of relation the character shares with other characters, you can easily find the backstory of the character. You can know different scares your character has.
And when the backstory is defined you will know how your character will be emotionally affected by it.
How do you create a backstory for the character?
Follow These Directions:
1. You can start with my acting character development worksheet with 100 questions. Using a pencil you can try to answer each question with the help of information given in the script.
2. In the worksheet you will be able to build character’s past, physiology, psychology, and sociology. These are the only four things you need to build the backstory of the character.
3. Things that are not available in the script you can fictionalize based on your understanding of the script and the character.
4. One last step you need to do in order to connect the backstory to the performance is to determine what was the moment with the other character before the scene. What was your last interaction with the other character in the scene? Because you always carry the emotions from the last meeting.
When you follow this procedure you will find the exact emotion you need to begin the scene.
5. Pick The Emotions
Most of the emotional acting exercises that I have mentioned earlier are good for preparing the part when you have time.
But what if you have only a few moments to prepare for the scene like an audition?
Well in that you have no choice but to pick an emotion and go from there and allow yourself to get involved in the scene.
It is more of an improvisation. So suggest you practice improvisation as well with these exercises. It helps a lot when you go out for auditions.
Also Read: Improvisation Exercises
How do you pick an emotion for the scene and play it?
Follow These Directions:
1. To begin with you must read the script properly. Just read it plainly first.
2. Now using a pencil, mark the major emotion for the scene. To find that you must find out what is the objective of your character in the scene.
3. Now choose the one emotion that will help you achieve the objective.
4. First make a list of a couple of emotions. Test them out in rehearsals.
5. Try each emotion and see how the scene looks. You can ask someone to provide feedback on it or you can tape it yourself.
6. When playing the scene, you will have to keep the same emotion from the beginning and let it evolve as the scene progresses. You cannot predict how it will progress. It will be all about improvisation and reaction.
How Do Actors Improve Their Emotions?
My acting coach used to say if you are open as an actor and your senses are highly sensitive you can feel the emotions.
But to reach that level you have to be highly trained or you have to practice hard. The 7 exercises that we have mentioned could be one of the few things that you can do to improve your emotions as an actor.
Here are a few things that you can do to improve emotions as an actor:
As I mentioned earlier, exercising regularly will help you to improve your emotions. Even if you do these 7 exercises you will see the difference in a couple of weeks or months.
Make sure you take out some time in the morning or in the evening to practice these exercises.
These exercises hardly take 10 to 15 minutes each.
Work on Senses
In addition to that, you can also work on your senses. You want to make them sensitive so that they can receive different stimuli from co-actors.
For that, I would suggest reading Eric Morris’ book. You can buy it from Amazon. His acting technique is based on tuning the senses to create real emotions.
When you learn to listen to your co-actors through your senses you will be a more sensitive and deceptive actor.
You might have heard about actors crying instantaneously or they can even show Goosebumps on the skin. This is because they have well-tuned sensors that react immediately during scenes.
Work on Emotional Pieces
Another great way to improve emotions as an actor is to work on emotional plays, scenes, or monologues. Try to prepare and perform these pieces regularly so that you can gain some experience.
However, I would advise you to get constructive feedback for your performance, so that something is not right you can improve on it.
I have compiled these emotion-acting exercises from my experience. You should try to incorporate or modify according to your need and experience. Also, try to denote an hour or so every day to make sure you see the difference in your performance.