Improv Made Me Feel Ways About Stuff
When I started taking improv we spent a lot of time pretending to have emotions. We did an exercise where we picked an emotion for a scene, and then maintained that emotion no matter what happened. For example, if you picked anger and then won the lottery you would have to be angry about it. Met the love of your life? Still angry.
As we got more advanced, the exercise changed from maintaining the emotion to increasing the intensity of the emotion. One day the teacher pulled me aside to tell me that a more intense emotion is not the same as a louder emotion. My scenes would devolve into me yelling “I AM SO ANGRY!” to demonstrate anger. This worked all right for anger, but when I angrily yelled, “I AM SO SAD!” and “I EXPERIENCE ENNUI!” it showed the limits of my range.
I started watching the other students to find out what emotions were supposed to look like. Some of them were artsy, creative types; surely they would know what to do. I noticed that when other people’s emotions became more intense, they didn’t just change their voice, they changed their body language and facial expressions as well. Finally, a way to demonstrate feelings rather than yelling about them.
From then on when I picked an emotion, I focused on body language and facial expressions. Sad meant looking down, no eye contact. Happy meant a smile that showed teeth. Concern meant I did the thing with my eyebrows. I was finally getting into serious emotional business.
This entire process indirectly carried over to non-improv situations. When I adopted certain body language and facial expressions outside of class, the name of an emotion would pop into my head. I’d grab strangers by the shoulders and shout, “I think I’m having an emotion!” They would experience surprise, and then remind me to show emotion quieter.
I don’t have a good conclusion for this.
When I first went on stage and a teacher said, “Act like you’re sad.” My truthful response, was “Ball it up, shove it down and act like everything is okay. Got it.” To an audience, this looks no different than ‘not sad’. It looks no different from ‘no emotion’. I don’t think it is uncommon to ball up emotions and ignore them. What I got out of improv, essentially, was a chance to practice having emotions. That is really weird.
I can’t think of any situation where losing control of my emotions made things go any better in real life. I also know that emotions definitely exist and I should probably do something with that information.
Later on I took an acting class. This class was real weird with a lot of staring at each other and, of course, having emotions. As best as I could understand, the underlying philosophy was that if you embrace an emotion, it can pass and then you can experience a different emotion. For instance, if you are playing a happy person, but you had a real bad day, you’re not going to be convincingly happy until you finish up having your bad feelings. This may be applicable to the rest of life. I’ll let you know.