Only Eight Emotions!? Really?

0185300 First things first. The Industry Workshop with guest instructor Donna Grossman went extremely well. Twenty-seven actors got to showcase their work for Donna and her assistant Sara Bernstein.

But instead of me prattling on telling you how wonderful it was, here’s what two of the actors who participated had to say: “John, you are giving SUCH a gift to actors with these workshops. Donna was a terrific guest and the two of you worked well together to give insightful and constructive direction while being completely supportive of the actor. You both created a relaxed and fun atmosphere that allowed everyone to feel free to do his or her best work.” Kate Konigisor

John, I just wanted to tell you I think last night’s workshop was one of the best ones yet!  I can’t believe how honest Donna was with each actor – she was really trying to get the best out of everyone.  I go to many casting director workshops and often hear generic feedback that sounds scripted, but Donna is clearly so passionate about acting and actors as was evident in her thoroughness. I am so grateful you offer these free workshops.  Thank you.” Laura Chaneski

For anyone reading this who didn’t know we offer these workshops – with some the top images-2leaders in the industry – we do. And for FREE. Yep, free. If you are a current or former student of mine or you follow this blog then you’re eligible for the workshops. The next one will be on the 28th of May. Hope to see you there.

Okay, up next. Had some provocative feedback re: my last post. A few people were shocked when I said actors should only use a pool of eight emotions when orchestrating their character’s emotional journey. “Why just eight,” they wanted to know,“when there are so many more to choose from?” 

Here’s the answer in a nutshell. It’s about clarity and simplicity. How well an audience connects to the character – in theatre as well as in film – is determined by the emotional life the imagesactor creates for his/her character. If you aren’t clear when you set up this emotional journey then it won’t be clear to the audience and they will be confused about what and how they’re supposed to feel.  A WORD OF CAUTION before we go any further. Your job isn’t to dictate how audience SHOULD FEEL. Your job to is to guide them up to but not completely through the experience — by using the emotions you chose to develop your character. The final part of that journey is up to each individual member of the audience.

Your job is to suggest how they should feel based on how successfully you’ve developed your character, on the story the writer has written, and through the direction (toward both of those goals) the director has laid out for you.

That’s why the emotional work you do for your character(s) should be limited to these eight emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, jealousy, betrayal, embarrassment and confusion. And yes, I know confusion isn’t really an emotion but it covers so much territory we use it as one.

By using these eight emotions alone or in combination with each other you will achieve images-1clarity and simplicity. Things get muddled when you try to put too fine a point on what it is you’re trying to convey. “My character should be feeling shame here.” Okay, what is shame? Sadness and embarrassment.

“My character should be feeling guilty here.” Okay, what is guilt? Sadness or anger and fear. “My character is feeling excited.” What is excitement? Joy. Or maybe joy tinged with a dash of confusion. All the other emotions you want to convey are rooted in these eight. By restricting yourself to just these eight you actually open up the character because you make his emotional journey so much clearer. And isn’t that what we all want – to be clear so the audience can understand and then feel what our characters are going through?

Try this. I guarantee it will improve your work.

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