7 Tips to Summon Tears

Getting called upon to portray a wide range of emotions is all part and parcel to the actor gig. But some emotions are more difficult to access than others. Tears, in particular, can be an intimidating challenge. While an organic moment is always preferable to canned tears, sometimes a script will explicitly demand that an actor cry, and there’s no use pretending that those who can summon genuine waterworks don’t have an edge. So. How does one cry, and more importantly, how does one make sure the crying is honest and grounded in real emotion?Of course, the answer is that everyone’s technique is different, but if you’re stuck, here are some tips to nudge things along.

  1. Stay hydrated. Set yourself up for success. If you know you’re going to have to cry on camera, don’t go out drinking the night before. Don’t run five miles without knocking back water afterwards. Make sure your body is well-hydrated. If you’re running low on internal H2O, your body is going to be more reluctant to squeeze the life-giving fluid out your eyeballs.
  2. Take out your contacts. If at all possible, take out your contacts when the time comes to film the critical scene. Contacts can dry out your eyes and make it harder to cry. If you have 20/20 vision, well, good for you, you lucky duck. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and your natural state flirts with legal blindness, you are out of luck. Maybe have some eyedrops on hand to keep things from getting too dry and hope for the best.
  3. Don’t take allergy meds. Any antihistamine is going to dry you out, so maybe hold off on the Claritin.
  4. Pay attention to breathing. Breathe is crucial. Sometimes simulating the breathing patterns of crying will help produce actual tears. Pay attention to how you breathe when you cry in real life. Make sure you’re not holding your breath and blocking access to emotions. Sometimes just letting your breath fall easily deep into your belly will help unlock things.
  5. Cry more in real life. Your body carries muscle memory. If you are accustomed to reacting to grief and stress by shutting down your emotions, your body’s first instinct will be to go to that state. Let yourself cry in movies, at the theatre, on the phone, in your life. Pay attention to your breathing and body when it happens. It may help you access those emotions and reactions more quickly when you act. The more you can train your body to go to that place the more willing it will be to take you there.
  6. Let the text carry you. Don’t forget that the words are the most important thing. If you’re not forging an honest connection with the character and text, no one will buy the moment, tears or no tears. If you get lost, return to the text. Put it on its feet, speak the words out loud. Be in the moment and play the action of the scene. If you’re connecting with the text, the reaction will likely come on its own.
  7. Include a physical workout. If you’re carrying too much tension in your body, that could be restricting access to emotions. Remember, an actor is a full-body athlete. If you need to unlock emotions for a specific scene, do some physical acting exercises as part of your homework. Pound a large pillow as hard as you can while yelling the text. Do some extended yoga before tackling the scene to get loosened up. If you practice releasing tension on a regular basis you will naturally be more in tune with your body.
  8. BONUS: Don’t overthink it. If you’re trying too hard, it will be forced. Sadly for all of us control freaks and perfectionists, the surest way to kill an honest moment is to try too hard. If ever you wanted to be out of your head and in your body, now is the time. Let yourself react honestly rather than reaching for a specific reaction.

At the end of the day, we are none of us robots. You’ll have an off day, or a slump where you find it difficult or impossible to summon tears at the appropriate time. Remember, even if you are a person who can turn it on and off like a faucet, having a genuine, organic moment is always preferable to parlor trick tears. Learning to access tears is a journey that can’t be forced. The more you can be in tune with yourself, the easier it will become. Have patience, put the work in, and trust the text and yourself to carry you the rest of the way.


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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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