"You are the Queen of fallen Troy. Your husband is dead, your son has been taken from you, your people are being taken away from you as they are treated as spoils to be looted by the Greek soldiers. How does that make you feel?"
Have you ever tried to lie to someone, and tried just speaking straight? Or been caught red-handed and just acted natural? It doesn't really work does it? Emotion Memory relies on you trying to tap into a memory of the last time you felt a feeling, rather than letting the emotion naturally flow from the action. You might as well play the performance naked and act like nothing is wrong.
This system is quite a peculiar one, in that it is both very controversial and not at all a system of acting. Emotion Memory is more a commonly held theory, stating that we remember our emotions each time they occur, and that it is a kind of open reservoir of talent that we can tap into when needed. I obviously wouldn't disagree that we remember experiences, however I would state that it is not the best method to use when acting, simply because it isn't acting. It's just recall and is just as bad as reciting your lines flat. It's what leads to finding yourself burnt out and in a rut after a few years of acting, and stuck doing soap operas and the celebrity pantomime.
Let's face it: the major problem with people who want to be actors, is that it's often not acting they want to do, it's drama. Actors these days... well no, actually, not just these days but throughout history... are often in the profession because they either want:
- To be really dramatic
These compulsions are common human characteristics and the reason that we have editorials, video blogs and LiveJournal. However, the best work in any field comes from people who love to explore what they do and why they do it, rather than just trying to show off. A good writer knows what he wants to write before he writes it, and then lets the 'what' dictate the 'how'. The pretentious and ultimately boring writers are those who write simply to boost their own self esteem.
If you've been around actors and find them too full of themselves, it may often be because they are the part of the common breed which enjoys style over substance. Again, this is a statement on the very sad state of the human condition.
The process described as 'Emotion Memory' is not only a contradiction in teaching that Stanislavski
rightly corrected in his later years, but it also runs contrary to how we behave as human beings.
When you are trying to play a role such as Hecuba in 'Trojan Women', you cannot simply think "ok so I am x, y and z - how does that make me feel?". It is how you act and react to events around you that makes life so fascinating. It is why I will watch a well-acted straight play over a bizarre Brechtian
piece. This action and reaction
is the very lifeblood of acting and of life, and it's so much more bizarre than you could ever imagine.
Emotion Memory is flawed because it isn't truthful
. It can work, as a neat little trick from time to time. But it is so forced that you might as well ask why you're doing this in the first place. As a teacher has said to my class, "I could stick you in a room and prod you with all sorts of things until you laughed or cried. But that's not what acting is about". Acting is about showing the truth of the situation, and that truth needs to come from what you think and feel at the moment; not from what you felt when you were six years old and Mr Snuggles the hamster was flushed down the toilet.
The impetus for writing this node, is that I have found that what is described as 'The Method' here on E2 is a strange perversion of what I would call 'The Method'. Perhaps I've been taught differently, but it seems that my fellow noders think, or have been taught, that the method is purely about recalling emotion. This simply isn't true - emotion memory was a process that Stanislavski taught (and to my knowledge) rejected later in life, and a process that I also reject. How do you expect to understand your character if you're simply recalling your experiences? You are on stage to create new experiences, and therefore each performance should be somewhat different in how your character reacts.
I'd like to finish with a quote from Nicholas Craig's, "I, An Actor". The character of Nicholas Craig
is a dichotomy. He talks in the similar manner as Tycho from Penny Arcade
: in a deliberately exaggerated manner, with the purpose of creating humour to make a more serious point. You can call this book satire
, but in a very funny way, it speaks the truth about what acting is and what it should be:
Our job is such that we must spend hours slyly observing raw life so that we can reproduce it on the stage in such a way that each and every member of the audience will say, "Ouch! That's the Truth. That's hit me between the eyes. That's what I came to the theatre for and I shall certainly buy a ticket for the next play at this theatre and I shall be more than satisfied if it is only half as good as this."