I'll preface this post by saying what I often say in class - "Technique is like medicine. You only use it when you need it." If you're feeling the emotions you need to feel by simply believing in the imaginary circumstances, then you don't need anything else. It's working. E.g. - You enter the scene and see a child tied up in the corner and that makes you feel real anger. That's all you need. BUT often times (especially after 15 takes) an actor might not really feel the emotion he or she needs to feel in the scene anymore. Typically, this is when they start "indicating" the emotions required in the scene (see my August 14th blog on "Indicating").
I'd also like to mention that, when I coach actors on TV shows, "The Moment Before" is one of the most frequently occuring problems I deal with on set (and in class!). And when actors fix the moment before, this in turn fixes many, many other things throughout the scene!
The preventative medicine to this (very) common problem can often be found in the actor's preparation. I suggest two phases of prep before an actor enters a scene (or before the director calls "Action"). When both are used together the actor feels what he needs to feel and starts the scene anchored in the imaginary circumstances. And although I use aspects of other teacher's techniques (Method & Meisner primarily), I've added something that's designed specifically for acting on-camera. Here's how it works:
Step 1. Get emotionally full.
First identify a main emotion your character feels at the start of the scene. I know there may be several but you only need one for this. Let's say "humiliation". Simplified, humiliation is actually Fear. So, try to think of a time in your life when you felt humiliated (or afraid). If you don't have a specific memory, that's OK! Use a real memory and tweak it. Perhaps you recently gave a speech in front of a group of people. It went well. But what if you had realized while you were standing there, that your pants were unzipped, and everyone was looking! This works well because it's a real event (you really gave the speech) and you tweaked it (made up the part about your zipper being open). This makes it easy for you to believe in (the event and specific people are real) and therefore easier for you to actually feel the imagined emotions. Be sure to imagine the incident fully. Thinking of it isn't the same as really imagining it. Use your senses to actually see, hear, smell, feel everything you can about the event. Sometimes you don't even need to imagine an entire event. You can simply remember a song that triggers an emotion in you (Meisner). Or smell a fragrance (Meisner) or hold an object (Method) or create a Gesture (Chekhov) that makes you feel what the character feels. Whatever you use, it's your secret. It should be something very personal because this will work better. So feel the freedom to use anything that works for you - even if it's embarrassing. No one ever gets to know. This will get faster each time you do it. When you are able to trigger the emotion and feel emotionally full within say, 30 seconds, you've accomplished step 1. Now you're ready to move on to step 2...
To read "Step 2" Click here.