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  • Sonya Cooke

To Conceal or to Reveal? --- How Much Truth Can You Handle?

Acting is a game of negotiating how much to conceal or to reveal. Actors often allow for too much emotional vomit, when withholding how they feel is more truthful to the moment. Consider your own life: how often do you bare your soul? Don’t the obligations of life require some concealment? Only in the moments that require emotional honesty is opening up worthwhile. It’s the same for our characters, who similarly make choices regarding how much they can reveal and to what degree they must conceal their true feelings, their authenticity, or what they really think to those around them. This happens both consciously and subconsciously.

Emotional truth is energetically costly. I don’t know about you, but I want to spend as little as I can, day-to-day. Only when the benefit is worthy do I drop some serious energy bucks: like communicating a need from your spouse or partner, or clarifying a boundary with your boss. But it’s not just the negative emotions that we displace; joy also is often withheld. Why? Because the experience of joy is vulnerable, and not everyone around you may appreciate it. Some may even hold it against you. We are constantly gauging what degree of emotional authenticity is warranted and safe to share moment-to-moment.

How do we apply this concept in our acting? Consider your audience. Who are you talking to, or who is present? What is your relationship with them, and what can either of you handle when it comes to emotional truth? There must be a sense of losses and gains. What will be gained if you are transparent about your feelings, and what may be lost? Truthful, emotional energy always comes at a cost. You cannot put the cat back in the bag, as they say.

Using potential circumstances can be very helpful here. Potential circumstances are those that are written in “if X, then Y” statements, and they can help actors perceive the cause-and-effect scenarios that invisibly hover around every choice we make. “If I let my boss have it, then she may fire me. If I placate her instead, she will likely keep me on. That being said, if I am truthful, the office may change for the better…” Potential circumstances help you calibrate your decisions according to the likely outcomes of the given relationship or scenario. Scatter potentials in your script to help you determine to what degree you can share your truthful experience.

I hope it is a relief to learn that emotions are not the be-all and end-all; in fact, it is the withholding of our emotional truth that can make our acting more authentic. Put your emphasis on what you are doing and why, and trust that the emotional life will come as a biproduct. And then, when an emotional full-frontal is called for, it will be fully earned and all the more impactful.

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