Playing From Character/Emotion class

Objective: The most powerful reactions are emotional reactions. Choosing to feel strongly about something made-up-in-the-moment is, well, insane. But it’s fun to watch. Surprise!

A scripted actor’s whole job is to make an audience believe that the emotional reaction they’re rehearsed is real in-the-moment. In improvisation, we have a leg up; we are all experiencing what’s happening for the first time. So just react. Don’t be in your head thinking about how you should feel or why we should feel. Just react. React without words until the words come. React without why until the why presents itself. If you commit to your reaction, that’s all the “why” an audience needs. If you invest in your emotion, the audience will believe that you have a reason even if you don’t have a motivation in mind.

Just react emotionally. Don’t over-think an easy win. You don’t need a motivation. You just need commitment to the moment.


3.0  Warm-Ups: Build energy, concentrate energy and emphasize the importance of emotion

Suggested Exercises:



EMOTIONAL REACTION CIRCLE – Around a circle, every player just has an emotional reaction.  They don’t need words – they can just make an emotional sound.  Have them go around and then go around pushing their emotions to 11.

3.1  Emotional Heights/Depths: Committed emotion should be an improviser’s base at all times.  We need to be able to exhibit the highest highs and lowest lows on stage so we need to practice emotion at the extremes to become comfortable in that space.

Suggested Exercises:

EMOTION TO 11 – Teacher gives students an emotion.  The class gives a suggestion of what to emote to.  Around a circle, students engage in that emotional perspective toward that suggestion, ramping up from 1-10 to 11. You’ll need to be attentive in this one since people tend to hit walls here. They really need to go bonkers and forget to make sense in what they’re saying. If someone really clams up, offer to do it with them, alongside them. Use your judgment to know when to push and when to let it go.
•       Give big, round, easy emotions, “happy, sad, fear, anger”
•       Push people, gently “more, bigger” to discover and emote. Don’t be mean.  Do it with them if they struggle.
•       Exude the emotion physically – 11 in sadness is rolling on the floor and weeping
•       Push it past comfortable – being vulnerable enough to share big emotions can be hard, but we have to trust each other and the safe place to “go big” in practice.  Support each other with applause.
•       Being bored or unaffected is hard to heighten – care



3.2  Emotional Context: Committed emotion is all the “what” and “why” a scene needs.  What’s extra fun is that, when we do have emotion, that emotion can add/change the meaning of our words and heighten the depth of our scenes.

Suggested Exercises:

EMOTIONAL NURSERY RHYME – Around a circle, a player recites a common nursery rhyme with an emotional filter.  The next player does the same nursery rhyme, further heightening the same emotion or trying on a new emotion.  Repeat with different nursery rhymes.
•       Song lyrics
•       Old salts / sayings
•       The details gain weight with our emotional perspectives
•       Acting is emoting – understanding a motivation can be hard and grueling.  Committing to an emotion without regard to “sense” is easy and fun.

3.3  Emotional Character Development:  We don’t need it “all figured out” the moment we step on stage.  Make one choice and then build other choices on top of that choice.

We can start with emotion and build the details of our character around that.  Or, we can start with a detail and build an emotional character from there.

Suggested Exercises:

CHARACTER WALK – students walk around the space as themselves.  Teacher gives prompts for them to make choices from (see Progression below).  Teacher asks additional questions to flesh out the characters.  Teacher has students reset, returning to walk around the space as themselves again.  And repeat.
•       Have players change elements of their personal walk to see how it affects the way they feel
•       Change your rate – speed up, slow down
•       Change your size – is your walk big or small?
•       Walk with a different body part forward
•       Change your spine
•       Be an animal
•       Walk like someone you know
•       Ask the class to try on a different:
•       Emotion
•       Posture/Physicality
•       Desire (I want…)
•       Perspective (I like…, I hate…)
•       Environment
•       Action
•       Ask questions to flesh out the character.  Basically “if this, then what”; for example, how do you feel about the action you’re doing, or how does that desire affect your walk?
•       Ask students to speak in their character’s voice – calling out students individually to contribute
•       Tell students to acknowledge each other’s presence to discover their ‘status’
•       Don’t let starting a scene be intimating – all you need to start is one choice

3.4  Emotional Matching:  If we agree, we can just be; we don’t have to explain or defend.  Have fun just being emotional together, trusting that your commitment to the same emotion is all the context for your relationship that’s needed.

Suggested Exercises:

EMOTIONAL CHAIR PASS – It’s like hitchhiker, but just two people, and the suggestion is an emotion, not a character.  Set up two chairs on the stage and the rest of the class in an audience. One person sits and expresses an emotion to the audience. When someone in the audience thinks they know what it is, they get up, take the other chair and match it, then sit in it for a sec. You call “scene,” the first person sits, and the second one repeats the activity with a new emotion. Someone gets up, matches, sits there for a second, feels it, then sits. Repeat.
•       After 3 or so, start asking, during the “sitting in it” portion, the same Character Walk questions: What kind of person sits like this?   Where are they?
•       Allow students to acknowledge each other. Eventually they’ll be drawn to exchange some lines, encourage that. You will have tricked them into doing a matching scene.
•       If we agree, we can just be; we don’t have to explain or defend. 
•       Trust that your commitment to the same emotion is all the context for your relationship that’s needed.

3.5  Emotional Scenes:   “How we feel about who we are, where we are and what we’re doing,” and “How we feel about who our scene is, where they are and what they’re doing” should be our focus in improv scenes.  Let “How we feel” trump all else, especially plot and “sense.”

Suggested Exercises:

“I [FEELING] YOU.” “I KNOW.” – Players form two “lay-up” style lines on either side of the stage.  Players at the front of each line decide on an emotion inside their heads.  Player from the stage left line comes out and says “I [blank] you” (i.e. “I love you”).  Player from the stage right line comes out and says “I know” filtered through the emotion they chose ahead of time (i.e. they chose “sad” so they say “I know” very depressed).  Have both player repeat their lines 3 or 4 times, heightening their emotions each time.
•       Linguistically “I ____ You” can get a little weird (i.e. “I happy you”), so feel free to change it to make it fit. Like “you make me happy,” actually “You make me _____” will probably fit better for most things.
•       Feel a certain way, direct that feeling at the person with you, assume things about your relationship, heighten
•       As they go, there’ll be a few that seem really natural. If you see it happen, some cool points to make are “didn’t you start making a story in your head about who they are? Our audience does the same thing, they see all kinds of connections” or “when we talk about relationship this is all it is, how people relate to each other, how they feel about each other.”

ANNOYANCE-STYLE SCENE STARTS – Have the class form a line across the back of the stage.  Call out one name.  That person should immediately take the stage and “take care of themselves” with a choice about their emotion, posture, environment, activity, etc.  The moment you call that name, another improviser should be coming out on stage as well.  That person must also “take care of themselves” with a choice.  Players expand on their choices, most importantly establishing and heightening their emotional perspective.  Run through this several times until you are confident everyone will take care of themselves right out of the gate and, eventually if not immediately, get to emotion.
•       If I’m picking my nose, what does that say about my age?  If I’m forty-five and picking my nose, where am I?  If I’m forty-five and picking my nose in a restaurant, am I embarrassed?
•       A scene needs information.  But expand on what you’ve already got.  Commit to it.
•       You don’t need motivation to have a feeling

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