Let me tell you about one of the most powerful acting classes I’ve ever experienced.
It was in my first month at my acting school, and my Meisner professor gave us a peculiar dynamic to work on. We had to think of a dramatic situation involving something that has happened or might happen in your life. Something that would trigger strong emotions from you (ex. a sick loved one, someone’s death, terrible news). The situation required a simple question with a yes, or no answer, “Will my brother survive the accident? “Does my mother have cancer?” You get the picture.
To create the mood, he dimmed the lights in the room and asked us to be silent for a few minutes, while a friend of your choice would be outside waiting to enter with your yes or no answer. The professor asked us to pray in whatever religion we believed in to add more depth to the scene.
At first, I was skeptical the exercise would bring any reaction from us. It all seemed too distant, too much imagination to work. How wrong I was.
Some of my friends went on the first day, and I was stunned by how much they would cry or even yell. It made me anxious to get over with my scene because the whole situation left me on the edge.
But my time came only on the second day of the class. Even after watching my classmates, I still didn’t believe I could get any reaction from the scene. But when I stepped in the middle of the room, with the dimmed lights, complete silence, my eyes closed and praying for my answer to be no, I felt as if everything was truly happening.
When my friend entered the room nearly crying (the deep emotions also struck those who had the weight of the answer), and said yes, the tears fell down my eyes, and my sobs filled the emptiness of the room. I trembled; I cried in her arms, and my heart felt broken beyond repair. In my mind, the doctors just told me my mom had cancer, and I felt as if it were real—as if I could truly lose her.
When the scene ended, I had to breathe to bring me back to reality. The professor waited until I was ready to speak. It was surreal as if I stepped into another person’s life.
I knew it was just imagination, which was the beauty of the safety of a scene. You can experience those emotions, without actually suffering the consequences.
I believe the same happens in writing. We need to experience what our characters are feeling and actually put ourselves in their positions, to bring out the truest reactions.
Don’t be afraid to experience those emotions. It will only add more soul into your writing and your characters. Even if your story is more plot-driven, the characters are the ones who live in it, who connect with your readers. We read to understand us as humans and to experience transformation.
I’m not an actor anymore, but those lessons stayed with me. It’s amazing how human nature works. That’s what artists do. We study it and represent it in our art the way we understand it.
Have you ever felt something so powerful, either reading a book, writing, or acting?