So How Do You Avoid Line Readings?

garden-maze-chatsworthBeing aware of when you are using them and when the reading is showing up organically is helpful.  “Organically” is a highfalutin’ word that I hate on one level, but is the only way I presently know to describe the difference with coming at a role externally, through a line reading, versus internally, through the unprejudiced exploration of a character.  It’s a learned ability, but when you achieve it, it’s very helpful.

Questioning yourself is also useful.  At some point down the road, I’ll talk about how I vet my own performances to make sure I’m not unintentionally stuck in a line reading.  (Yes, I’ve been acting for longer than I’d like to admit, and I still need to monitor myself for this potentiality, and always will.)

But both of those alternatives are advanced stuff.  Where do you start?

For one thing, learn to memorize your lines by rote.  That is, just memorize the words themselves, without consideration for how they should be said.  (At some point, I’ll create a video which will demonstrate this process.)

But you can also avoid them by doing what I’m going to suggest is the real function of and way to handle the first half of the rehearsal period:

Trial and error.

Intentionally say the line differently each time you rehearse the scene (or at least some of the times you rehearse the scene, until you run out of alternatives).  Because you aren’t doing exactly the same thing every time, your brain has nothing yet to memorize.  (I’ve got a post coming up on your subconscious, which reiterates how frequency and repetition become reality, whether you like it or not.  Or you can check this post out, for the introduction of the concept.  Which is really very pertinent and worth reviewing.)

[Also, telling you to “intentionally say the line differently” is perhaps a little glib and apt to be misunderstood, but I don’t want to get bogged down in the details right now.  We’ll explore what “trial and error” really means at some point in the future.]

Your brain only memorizes what is repeated.  It understands frequency.  Nothing else gets through its filter from the outside world.

Your subconscious knows things you don’t realize it knows, and that can be helpful to an actor.  But that’s a different matter.  When it comes to new data – that is, new lines to memorize – your brain relies on the frequency of the input.

Of course, there is a more important reason for using trial and error, and I’ll talk about that shortly.  But this is a nice side benefit of the process!

To read Line Readings and Why They Don’t Work, go here.  To read Where Do Line Readings Come From, Anyway?, go here.


Where Do Line Readings Come From, Anyway?

Good intentions, mostly.

Parrot (1)We’ve been reading fiction and/or plays for years.  We’re accustomed to hearing the dialogue in our heads.  What is simpler (and truer, we think) than to simply parrot that internal reading to an audience?

And often, it sounds pretty good.  As I say, if you’ve got good instincts, you may well hit on a very good way to say the line.  It might even be the “best” way to say the line.  (Not “right”, just “best.”)

There’s just the pesky problem that using the line reading without first discovering what is causing it generally leads to an underdeveloped character.

Sometimes line readings show up out of a desire to please the director.  We commit to them early so that the play sounds good in rehearsals.   We don’t want the director to panic, to think we don’t know what we’re doing, to not cast us again.

Sometimes they come about because we want to impress the rest of the cast, to show them that we can keep up with them.  Or because we want to help them.  The earlier we give them “good stuff”, the more they’ll like us.  Or the better their performance will be, because they’ve got something “good” to play against.

Sometimes they come about because we “act” the role as we are memorizing lines, instead of just memorizing the words without intonation.  It’s easier to memorize lines this way.  But it’s like song lyrics.  There is a musicality to intonation.  And once it’s in your head, it’s in your head.  Just think about those songs you remember from decades ago!

But sometimes they come from our lesser selves, too.  We’re terribly impressed with ourselves for knowing how to say these lines, and we want to show off.  Or we are panicked that we won’t get the play ready in time, so we try to set things in stone early, so we can really hone them.  (The fine-tuning can’t happen without the proper foundation, but we don’t realize that.)

hayesIncidentally, I’ve been guilty of all of the above at some point in my life.  Another golf analogy:  you never have to worry about playing with a really good golfer, no matter how bad you are yourself, because every good golfer has been through what you have.  And we have long memories.

Ditto with acting.  Despite the fact that I have a lot of natural talent and very good instincts, there isn’t a mistake you can make that I haven’t made myself.  That’s how I learned.

So it’s perfectly okay to make the mistake of using line readings.  As I said in class, Helen Hayes used them early in her career (and to great success, too), until a very honest, no-nonsense director called her on it in her fifth Broadway lead, which drove her to acting classes.

The important question is:  Are you willing to give it up in favor of an unknown that will serve you better?  And are you willing to trust that it will serve you better?

To read Line Readings and Why They Don’t Work, go here.  To read So How Do You Avoid Line Readings, go here.

Line Readings, and Why They Don’t Work

dressing windowIn a recent class, Anne asked, “What are line readings?”

A line reading is a pre-determined way of saying a line.  It’s when you plan the intonation you use and the sort of energy and emotion behind it.  It’s a conscious, intellectual choice.  It usually comes from a sense of how the line should sound, what feels right.  And if you have good instincts, your choices in this regard can be very good ones.

Line readings are very much a product of the belief that there is a RIGHT way to do this.  “Can we go back a couple of lines, I said that wrong.”

If you believe there is a RIGHT way to say a line, you will seek it out early and commit to saying the line that way for the rest of your life.  As soon as you find a way that sounds RIGHT, you will stop looking for something better, something more interesting and true to the character.  You may have chosen something good, or even something very good, but you will typically not reach great.

The reason you won’t reach great is because even if the line reading you’ve chosen is exactly “right”, line readings are, by definition, superficial.  They are window dressing.

If you start with what you know is “right”, you lay it on the scene superficially, without undergirding it with emotional need and emotional reality.  It will remain superficial:  an excellent choice with no root structure.  Believe me, the most inexperienced audience will know the difference in seconds.

If the choice is the ”right” choice, you will find it by digging into the character, into what he wants and how he tries to get it, into how he feels about everything that is said and done to him and why he feels that way.  You’ll find it by opening yourself up to what is said and done to him and feeling some real emotion before you respond, naturally and in real-time.   This is why I say you can disregard almost everything in the parentheses in a script; if it’s “right”, you’ll find it on your own, and it will have greater impact when you do.

But if you go for what are essentially externals (inflection, volume, facial reactions, etc.), you don’t really have to search for the emotions, because after all, you’ve got the “final product”, right?  Nothing real has to happen onstage to product line readings.  It’s all artificial.

chinese-noodlesSuperficial actors don’t realize what they are giving up by working this way, so don’t be hard on them (or on yourself, if you’re one of “them”).  It’s very common for untrained actors to do this, and I wish I could say that it is a practice confined to the amateur ranks.  I’ve seen professional performances where this happens, most often in comedies.  An audience may laugh in response to a line reading, but you will never move them, and they will forget the production in short order.  It’s like Chinese food and pancakes:  tastes great, but doesn’t stay with you.

Unfortunately, the people most at risk for making this practice a habit are among the most talented.  Because they have an unerring sense of what is the “right” way to say a line, they can coast.  They can give a very glib, smooth performance that seems to hit all the marks without working very hard.  And the more they do it, the easier it becomes.  They sound great at auditions and in the first few weeks of rehearsals, but their character never grows beyond that.  Their development stalls out halfway through the rehearsal process.  An audience will never really believe them, never really suspend their disbelief in the way that we want them to.

There are worse things.  It’s a shame to pay the money for professional theater and encounter acting like this, but in amateur productions (depending on the quality of the latter), it can sometimes measurably improve the product.

It’s a function, really, of why you want to act.  I haven’t used a golf analogy in a while, but here’s one that’s appropriate.

When a golfer shows up on my lesson tee, I need to find out what his goal is – not just for that lesson, but in general.  What kind of golfer he wants to be will determine how and what I teach him.

People have different reasons for playing golf.  Some do it just to have a reason to spend a few hours with close friends outdoors.  Whether they play well or not doesn’t matter to them.  Some people have a maximum score they can tolerate without getting angry at themselves.  For some, it’s breaking 100 consistently.  For others, it’s bogey golf – high 80s, low 90s.

There are also golfers who want to be the club champ, and are willing to work to get to that point.

Someone who dreams of winning his club championship is going to approach the game very differently from someone who just doesn’t want to embarrass himself when he plays in an occasional golf outing.

All of these reasons are perfectly valid.  As long as the golfer is happy with his score, I don’t care if he’s a good golfer or not.  And I won’t try to make him get better than he wants to be.  My job is just to help him meet his goal, whatever it may be.

Same thing with acting.  If you do it because it’s fun, it gets you out of the house, you get to spend time with other people, and you like performing, then by all means, you should do some acting.  How good you are at it doesn’t matter in the least to me.  As long as you are content with the quality of your own acting and directors keep casting you, feel free to use all the line readings you like.

But if you do want to do some great acting – line readings will never get you there.  That’s all.

To read Where Do Line Readings Come From, Anyway?, go here.  To read So How Do You Avoid Line Readings, go here.

A Character’s Interior Struggle

Equus doraAnne is working on the Dora Strang monologue from Equus, featured in a couple of earlier posts.  I’ll be referring back to it at some point for an expansion of what I’m talking about in this post; today I just want to speak personally to Anne about something we discussed last night.  I am posting it generally because I think others might get a little something out of it, too.

At one point, Anne used the word “unemotional” to describe Dora, and I suggested that in general, it’s not a useful word because it’s boring to watch, but that there is a way to use it that can be effective.  And we went on to talk about the scene in other terms.

You backed off the word, Anne, because you realized it’s an adjective.  I told you that adjectives and emotions are perfectly okay to identify – in fact, they are very good to identify for two reasons.  One is that they typically lead you to Tone, which is an important but sophisticated element we’ll talk about way down the road.  The other is that they are your first clue in script analysis, which is what we’re dealing with at the moment.  We’ve talked about finding your feelings in a scene, relating to your partner, and identifying your beats and playing your verbs.  But as you all discovered last night, your verbs are only part of the equation.  HOW you play them depends on who your character is.  Without having a clear and comprehensive understanding of your character, it is easy to go wrong.

This is one reason why playing adjectives is so dangerous.  You can completely miss out on what is really driving your character if you approach it this way.

So let’s get back to Dora and the word “unemotional”.

“Unemotional”, like all adjectives, is too general to play.  WHY someone is unemotional makes it specific, which in turn makes it interesting.

Am I unemotional because I think it is inappropriate to be emotional in certain contexts, like at work or with people I’ve just met?  Because I was taught as a child that showing emotion results in punishment in my family?  And was that punishment corporal or simply a withholding of love?

Am I unemotional because I’m afraid that people won’t like me if I show them who I really am and what I really feel?  Because I don’t like the “bad” emotions I feel, like anger and envy and so I try to pretend that they aren’t there, or at least make sure that other people don’t see them?  And maybe it’s easier to shut down all of my emotions rather than risk that my anger slip out when I’m not watching myself?

Am I unemotional with Alan because I don’t believe in coddling a child?  The real world is a cold place, better that I should teach him how to function within it!

When I answer these questions, I come up with some basic needs for my character:  a need to be the consummate professional in business and to be perceived as well-mannered by all I meet.  A need to protect myself from punishment from others or to gain their love by being the Good Little Girl.  A need to be liked.  A need to be good, to not be bad, to get into heaven.  A need to give my son the best tools I know for dealing with the world.

These needs drive HOW I do things; that is, they drive HOW I play my verbs.  The mother who doesn’t want to coddle her son is a different woman than the one who doesn’t like her own “bad” emotions.  Although human needs are rarely so simplistic, and so you might find a variety of elements behind Dora’s “unemotional” nature that come into play at different moments.

But the thing all of these alternatives have in common is the need to repress emotions.  Human beings are emotional by nature.  We are all born with them.  Someone who is “unemotional” is working hard to repress them.  And THAT’S what you play as an actor.  You don’t play “unemotional”, because it’s uninteresting to watch.  But someone repressing specific emotions when they rise up in her?  That’s a very active and compelling choice.

When your character is drunk, you don’t play “drunk”.  You play trying desperately to seem sober.

In other words, when you’re on stage, you have to show the audience the Yin and the Yang.  We don’t know what you are repressing unless you let it leak out just the tiniest bit.  In fact, we may not even know you ARE repressing it if you don’t let it leak out.  We may just think you aren’t a particularly good or interesting actor, without understanding why.

Remember, we just met this character, and we have a very limited time with her.  In a case like Dora, who is a supporting character in the play, we may only spend 15 minutes with her.  We don’t have the luxury of learning over time that she represses her emotions, or why.  You need to convey that to us quickly and comprehensively.  And you do that by showing us both the emotions and the repression of them.

This sort of inner struggle – to not love someone you think is wrong for you, to do what you know is right despite your fears, to maintain control of your anger when you have been pushed over the edge by your young child or your boss – is fascinating to watch on stage, and the basis of many moments in dramatic works.

Also, even “unemotional” people have events in their lives that are so traumatic that it creates a windstorm of emotions inside of them that even they cannot repress.  This is such a moment for Dora.  Despite protecting herself for years, she is the proverbial fat that has been flung into the fire.  It is NOT business as usual.  (Plays rarely are.)  Which makes it even more interesting to watch.  What happens to a woman who is losing the battle to hide behind her usual façade?

Why Playing Verbs is (Ultimately) Easier Than Acting Emotions

When you choose what you want, which is always expressed as a verb (“I want to . . .”), you’ll find there are Big Verbs and Little Verbs.  The Big Verbs govern what your character wants in the entire play, or in an act, or in a scene.  The Little Verbs govern what your character wants in a single Beat.

Let’s go back to Dora’s monologue in Equus.  I’m going to choose “To justify my actions with regard to Alan to the doctor and to myself” as the Big Verb for the monologue (and the scene from which it comes).  As for the Little Verbs for each of the beats I identified in a previous post, they are in boldface below and precede the dialogue in the beat:

(To establish why you don’t understand my situation)  Look, Doctor:  you don’t have to live with this.  Alan is one patient to you:  one out of many.  He’s my son.  /  (To explain what this is doing to us)  I lie awake every night thinking about it.  Frank lies there beside me.  I can hear him.  Neither of us sleeps all night. /  (To complain about your unfair attack)  You come to us and say, who forbids television?  Who does what behind whose back? – as if we’re criminals.  /  (To defend myself)  Let me tell you something.  We’re not criminals.  We’ve done nothing wrong.  We loved Alan.  We gave him the best love we could.  /  (To concede we aren’t perfect)  All right, we quarrel sometimes – all parents quarrel – we always make it up.  /  (To defend my husband)  My husband is a good man.  He’s an upright man, religion or no religion.  He cares for his home, for the world, and for his boy.  Alan had love and care and treats, and as much fun as any boy in the world.  /  (To demonstrate that I am not a stupid woman)  I know about loveless homes:  I was a teacher.  Our home wasn’t loveless.  I know about privacy too – not invading a child’s privacy.  /  (To concede that my husband may have contributed in some small way)  All right, Frank may be at fault there – he digs into him too much – but nothing in excess.  He’s not a bully. . . /   (To blame Alan)  No, doctor.  Whatever’s happened has happened because of Alan.  Alan is himself.  Every soul is itself.  If you added up everything we ever did to him, from his first day on earth to this, you wouldn’t find why he did this terrible thing – because that’s him; not just all of our things added up.  /  (To make you understand)  Do you understand what I’m saying?  I want you to understand, because I lie awake and awake thinking it out, and I want you to know that I deny it absolutely what he’s doing now, staring at me, attacking me for what he’s done, for what he is! /  (To blame the real culprit – the Devil – and thereby back off of blaming my son)  You’ve got your words, and I’ve got mine.  You call it a complex, I suppose.  But if you knew God, Doctor, you would know about the Devil.  You’d know the Devil isn’t made by what mummy says and daddy says.  The Devil’s there.  It’s an old-fashioned word, but a true thing . . . /  (To apologize)  I’ll go.  What I did in there was inexcusable.  I only know he was my little Alan, and then the Devil came.

Why is this more helpful than playing emotions?  Certainly there is some anger in this piece, but if you choose to play the anger, you’ll be inclined to be angry throughout the monologue.  Once you look at the individual beats and their verbs, however, you can see why anger doesn’t work well throughout.  Just think of these beats in terms of aggressive/defensive, and you’ll find they seesaw between these two positions.  The aggressive verbs?  Establish, complain, demonstrate, blame.  The defensive verbs?  Explain, concede, make you understand, apologize.

The verb “defend” can be either aggressive or defensive, depending on how you choose to play it.

Once you understand that Dora uses a variety of aggressive and defensive tactics to justify slapping her son, it is easier to see how the emotions she feels throughout the speech are in constant motion, conflicting with and contradicting each other.  This inner torment can be fascinating to watch.  We never know what to expect from Dora.  We like her one moment, pity her the next, hate her in the third, sympathize in the fourth.  The whirlwind of emotions that pass through her keep our attention, keep us thinking about this extraordinary story Shaffer has presented us with, trying to sort out the moral and ethical questions it raises, to figure out who’s the “bad” guy.

seesawThe seesawing happens so quickly and often that even if we could accurately identify an emotion per beat (and “anger” doesn’t work for all of the aggressive verbs), it isn’t a practical approach.  To make a conscious switch from one emotion to another takes too long and is unbelievable to watch.  It’s your conscious brain making the switch, not your subconscious; in real life, it is always the subconscious which is in charge of your emotions, and your subconscious makes all such switches in an instant.

Try to make the switch with your conscious brain, and the audience will see the wheels turning in your head.  That’s all it takes for them to stop believing in you.

If you stop worrying about whether you are using the right emotion (should I be angry? Irritated? Defensive?) and simply try to accomplish your verb, the right emotion will come along all by itself.  (Assuming, that is, that you’ve left the door to your emotions open.)

Let’s take the first beat to see how this works:  “To establish why you don’t understand my situation.”  Or maybe I decide to rephrase that, to replace “establish” with “explain”.  Or to use “To put you in your place.”  Feel free to try on different phrases, like you’re trying on different shoes, until you find a phrase that really resonates for you and feels “right”.

Whichever phrase you end up with, I can imagine any number of emotions that might come up as a result, and they are the adjectives and adverbs we are inclined to act.  Angry.  Resentful.  Frustrated.  Hurt.  Exasperated.  Sarcastic.  Superior.  I can also imagine two or more of these co-existing during the beat, depending on exactly what verb I choose.  But the magical thing about playing the verb is that I don’t have to pay much attention to the emotions or figure out which is the “right” one.  “Explain” and “establish” are going to bring up slightly different emotions without me having to pre-plan anything.  “Putting you in your place” will naturally bring up a very different set.

Playing verbs is infinitely easier to do than playing emotions and adjectives.  I don’t have to choose the “right” sort of anger (and anger, as with all emotions, comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.)  All I have to do is try to explain something.  Or defend my position.  Or concede a point.  Or blame someone else.  Which is very simple and straightforward.

See Playing the Verbs Part II here.  See Playing the Verbs Part III here.  See Why Playing the Emotions Doesn’t Work here.  See Choosing Verbs here.  See Big Verbs vs. Little Verbs here.  See How to Learn to Play the Verbs here.

The Four Emotions, Part III

What does all this talk about conflicting emotions mean for you as an actor, practically speaking?  If a scene clearly seems to be about one emotion to you, go looking for a second emotion.  If you relate to the Anger in a scene, look for lines that allow you to put Fear or Sadness with it.  If you relate to Joy in the scene, look for the Fear or Sadness as well.  (It is also entirely possible to find Anger in a scene that is primarily about Joy, and vice versa, although you may find them co-existing less frequently than the other possible pairing.)Theater-Masks White

“But,” I hear you say, “if that second emotion is there, won’t I ‘feel’ it?”

Probably not.

Our nature is to look for simple answers to questions, and acting is no different.  When we find one answer, we just don’t go looking for a second one, particularly a contradictory one, which can co-exist with the first.  We find the first and say, “Voilà!  That’s it!”

So when you identify the dominant emotion of a scene, the tendency is to stop there.  Sometimes it is so strong that the secondary emotion(s) end up hidden, and you have to root them out.

This is another reason for sticking with the emotions in their pure state.  If you start dealing with fancier terms, when you go looking for a second emotion, you’ll find that you’re naming variations of the same primary emotion.  “I’m frustrated.”  “I’m annoyed.”  “I’m resentful.”  But they’re all versions of Anger.

But when you are working with the Mad/Sad/Glad family, this won’t happen.  Okay, Anger is your primary emotion.  Is there anything that happens in the scene that you can be happy about?  Sad about?  Scared about?

Distilled to these terms, it’s a lot easier to find the hidden emotions.

Once you find the hidden broad stroke emotions, give yourself over to what those feelings mean in the context of the scene.  Ignore the primary emotion for the moment, stick with the secondary emotion.  (If you’ve found more than one, run the scene twice, focusing on one at a time.)

Again, don’t go for fancy, subtle words, like disenchanted, or devastated, or surprised, or anxious.  Go for the kids’ emotions:  mad/sad/glad/scared.  Get in touch with what it feels like to be angry in the scene before you temper it to simply be disenchanted.  Allow yourself to be downright scared before you move back to anxious.

Why is this important?  Because the fancier the word you apply to what your character feels, the easier it is to distance yourself from that emotion.  It becomes a head exercise, which is interesting if you’re in a literature class, but not particularly useful to an actor!

See Part I here.  See Part II here.

The Four Emotions, Part II

When acting, you might feel different elements of the primary emotion at the same time.  For instance, if your primary emotion is Joy, you might feel both confident and hopeful, or confident and proud.  If you feel the former, it will express itself slightly differently than the latter pairing.

On the other hand, you might feel both Anger and Sadness at the same time, as Biff does in the confrontation scene at the end of Death of a Salesman.  He is more closely connected to the Anger in the beginning of the scene and to Sadness at the end, but those two emotions co-exist throughout the entire scene.  Your job, as an actor, is to let them both affect you, while making choices about which to let dominate when and how to make the move from Anger to Sadness.

death of a salesmanKnowing that there are two different emotions governing opposite ends of the scene helps you to chart the space between them.  You can allow for a gradual and natural change, with each successive line of dialogue helping you to move closer to your final emotion.  But to really make this effective, you have to clearly understand the difference between the starting and ending primary emotions, and where they can overlap.

A third option is for both to exist throughout the scene, without the clear sort of delineation we find in the Death of a Salesman scene.  For instance, you might experience Anger and Joy at the same time.  Frustration and Pride, or Jealousy and Love.  There are scenes where it is entirely appropriate to toggle between the two throughout the scene, as if you are flicking a light switch on and off.

Most relationships are not straightforward, grounded in one particular emotion.  How many times can we fairly answer the query, “Tell me about your relationship” with, “Well, it’s complicated….”

“I love Mom, but she drives me crazy with her nitpicking.”  “I love my brother, but I can’t help resenting him when Dad praises him to the skies.” “I love my boyfriend, but he doesn’t always give me what I need, and that makes me anguished, frustrated, or furious, depending on the moment you ask.”

If you’re this last woman, the same man makes you feel joy, love, grief, frustration, fury, heartbreak, worry, and fear – and sometimes, all at the same time!  Human beings are perfectly capable of juggling such complexity of emotions.  On stage, it’s harder, because you have to layer those things together intentionally, whereas you’ll do it naturally and instinctively in your real life.  But if you want to create characters who seem like real people, this is exactly what you must do.  When you create a flawed and contradictory character, you will probably create an interesting, watchable, and believable character, one who enriches the play you’ve been given.

See Part I here.  See Part III here.

The Four Emotions, Part I

There are four primary emotions:  Anger, Fear, Joy, and Sadness.

four emotionsAsk a toddler how he feels, and you are apt to get “I’m mad”, “I’m scared”, “I’m happy”, or “I’m sad” as a response.  As we get older, we start to delineate gradations of these main emotions, but every feeling still falls into one of these four major groups.

Jealousy is a form of AngerWorry is a form of FearExcitement is a form of JoyHurt is a form of Sadness.

When we read a scene for the first time, we typically respond to what we feel is the primary emotional element involved.  Now, you and I might disagree about what that element is.  What we identify is at least partly going to be a function of who we are as individuals, something separate from whatever the playwright has put into the scene.  (I’ll talk more about that another time.)

This is good.  Whichever primary emotion you relate to, go with it initially.  But don’t try to fine-tune it yet.  If you think your character is driven by Jealousy, then get in touch with all the Anger you can muster about the scene.  If you think your character is worried out of her mind, don’t go for Worry; go directly to Fear.

Don’t be afraid of the Big Four.  Don’t avoid them just because they are such huge emotions.  Sometimes we get so fancy about how we define the emotional life of our characters that we shy away from the strength of these primary emotions.  Don’t.  Go with them.  Indulge them.  Find out what they have to tell you about the heart of the scene.

Remember, you’re in rehearsals, and you’re in the early stage of rehearsals.  You can afford to make mistakes now.  You aren’t committing to anything.  You’re simply exploring.  You’re going to the edge of the boundaries, and perhaps even beyond them, so that you can be sure where the boundaries are.

So when I read the confrontation between Willy Loman and Biff at the end of Death of a Salesman, I might respond primarily to Biff’s Anger.  If that is what hits me first and I am playing Biff, it is likely that I will be inclined to focus on that aspect of the scene, to play up the Anger whenever possible.

That’s not the only emotion going on in the scene, however.  By the end of it, Biff is in tears, a big clue that Sadness is also a part of the scene.  As Biff, I might start the scene with Anger, but ultimately I’ve got to make my way to Sadness by the end of it.

Be careful, though, not to assume that it’s an either/or proposition.  That when I’m feeling Anger, I can’t possibly feel Sadness as well.  Or vice versa.  Different, or even conflicting emotions, can co-exist.  I’ll talk more about this in Part II.

See Part II here.  See Part III here.