Emotional Prep Work: How to “Get There” by Go Time

shutterstock_1034150995Delivering an honest, organic emotional connection is the heart of our work as actors. But it is not an easy task. It requires a level of technique and artistry that is often dismissed or diminished in the mind of the general public. The business side of “show” makes it even harder: not only do actors need to deliver that honest connection, we need to deliver it now, often in a room full of people, with cameras and booms hovering in our periphery, trying to ignore the fact that the gentle spring twilight we’re filming is actually a frigid October dawn.


Whether you’re working on film, theatre or auditions, you’re going to run into a situation where you have to vomit up some honest emotion on short notice. So how can you make sure you’re ready when the time comes? The key is in emotional prep work. Here are some ways to kick start your feelings!


  1. Know your triggers. Take note of the things in your life that elicit an emotional response. Is music your go-to? Scent? Make a playlist for your character, or for a scene. Dab some perfume on a bit of cloth and bring it with you. Have ready access to a meme that makes you laugh. Find new and creative stimuli for your work and find a way to bring it with you or recall it. If I’m going into an audition and I know I have to do some heavy emotional lifting, the first thing I do is scope out a corner where I can do some light stretches and listen to a curated playlist. It always helps me to stay focused and active. It’s easy to get sucked into the nervous chatter of the room, or to let your energy dissipate by sitting down for a long time. On the flip side, don’t forget to pace yourself. You don’t want to work yourself up too early if you’re going to be hanging out for 45 minutes.
  2. Personalize. Remember that just mimicking blanket emotion at the camera will ring hollow. If you need to catapult to peak drama for a last minute self-tape, make it personal. Perhaps you have limited information on the character and scene. Find some “as ifs” that can make your performance full and rich. I’ve used “as if I have to speak at my best friend’s funeral” or “as if I found out I can never see my brother again.” Find something that raises the emotional stakes for you and use it to give you a leg up as you pursue the action of the scene. Sometimes you will have to personalize something or someone that is not your scene partner. Maintaining focus takes practice.
  3. Know the work. Be an expert on your character’s backstory. If you have access to the full script, read it. If you’ve got nothing, make it up. Learn, or build, a history that sparks your emotional imagination.
  4. Relax and warm up. If you’re overthinking or trying too hard, it’s going to get you in your head. Emotions live in the body. Try to carve out some time before your audition to do some light stretches, shake it out, connect to your breath and get in touch with yourself body. Make sure you’re warming up physically and vocally and make it part of your routine. The more you practice, the faster your body will remember its state of readiness. If you’ve warmed up and done the emotional prep work, a few jumping jacks right before might give you that extra juice. Start mapping where your emotions live in your body and your breath. Often the physical work can get you in a reactive emotional state in a hurry.
  5. Play the action. Remember not to get caught up in the emotion of the scene. The emotion is a reaction to the action of the scene. Fight for your character’s objectives. Stay in that moment of that scene and do your character’s job. Let the text and the circumstances support and inform your emotional journey.


There are many routes to connect to the heart. Learn about yourself as a person and an actor. Find what makes sense to you. Cultivate stimuli shortcuts for ready access. Above all, trust in your ability and your training. Be fearless, be open, be curious. Let the emotions follow the actions.

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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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