It’s just commonsense!
If you had to ask me what is the most important acting tool of a
personal nature I can bring to the craft of acting I would say without
hesitation my five senses.
I was born with, and am grateful to have accessible to me, all of my
five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. I have the
ability to feel cold and heat; to see a sunset and a love one’s face;
to hear the music I love and the sound of a baby’s voice; to taste
great food from all over the world and taste the sweet kiss of my
beloved; to smell flowers and freshly baked bread. I may have only
mentioned pleasant things, but I can feel, see, hear, taste and touch
the unpleasant opposites of all the mentioned experiences. Yes, I
live through my sensory experiences as do we all. Even those deprived
of one or more of these sensory experience life through their senses.
When one sense is taken away the others become heightened.
What has this to do with acting?
I am performing a scene on stage or in a movie. The scene takes place
on a very cold day in the Arctic. It is very hot under all the stage
and set lights yet I’m to convey cold. How do I do that? The novice
actor first thinks to show cold by flapping their arms and shivering.
Fortunately, our modern day audiences are to sophisticated, they can
spot phony acting a mile away. The good actor must be able to
recreate truthful cold by using his/her sensory recall.
You have the ability to recreate a sensory. It is not about
pretending although that’s a beginning, it’s about actually believing
that something exist that actually doesn’t. Sounds crazy? Well, it’s
not. It’s what actors do all the time. If they didn’t we wouldn’t go
How do you start learning this process?
Pour yourself a nice cold drink. Make sure the glass has plenty of
ice. Let it sit for a while, maybe five minutes. Pick the glass up
and hold it in your hand. Study it’s appearance. Study the ice inside
the glass as well as the liquid. Feel the smoothness of the glass.
If your glass is cut crystal feel the design with your fingers. Be
aware of the weight of the filled glass. The glass may have sweated.
Feel the dampness. Move the glass from side to side. Does the ice
click against the glass? What does that sound like? Taste the drink.
If you chose something like lemonade is it sweet or is it sour. Does
it have bubbles and do the bubbles tickle you nose. Experience the
glasses and its contents using all your five senses.
Now, place the glass down and pick up an imaginary glass that is the
duplicate of the glass you just examined. Recreate what it looks
like. See the ice and the liquid in the glass. Feel the smoothness
and the dampness of the glass. Experience its weight. Listen to the
ice in the glass and taste the drink again. Re-experience the glass
of liquid using all your five sense.
You can do this exercise with any number of objects.
Do you feel stupid or silly doing this exercise? Hopefully, you
don’t. If you do, however, you must learn to overcome whatever
discomfort you feel if you wish to be an actor.
Recreating using our five senses is an everyday occurrence for most of
us. It’s just that we don’t make note of it when we do it. Did you
ever share an event with a friend? Didn’t it frustrate you that while
relating the event you couldn’t find the voice to express fully what
you experienced. You usually end the conversation by saying, “You had
to be there.” Yet, in telling the story you had no problem
re-experiencing the sensory yourself.
Take a simple event from your life and see if you are able to
re-experience it. It can be a very simple event. For example I
recall being at the beach at midnight. I was sitting on old wooden
stairs gazing at the ocean. It was a clear star filled night. The
moon was off in the distance and shone a pathway of light onto the
ocean. I can clearly recall the sounds of the waves as they rolled
onto the beach and the slight lingering sound that remained
afterwards. The fresh salt air refreshed me. By focusing on my
sensory recall I can lose myself in the re-living of this moment at
How to use this tool to create truthful emotions!
Our sensory instrument is also used to awaken emotions. Recall the
sensory of being nestled in a loved ones arm. You may begin feeling
safe and protected. The blaring of a car horn may make you feel
anger. The smell of a particular scent may make you feel romantic.
Sounds may surface a myriad of emotions. Music, in particular, is
very personal and may bring up a range of emotions from sadness to
joy. Visuals are equally as powerful. The sight of someone
physically abusing a child arises the emotion of rage inside me. A
sunset can have the very opposite effect.
You may have noticed that I’ve used phrases such as “may make you,” or
“can have the,” when speaking of sensory recall. That is because we
are all individuals and as such our senses memory will be unique to
us. Music is the perfect example of how one source can have a
different response with different people. A certain scent may make
one person romantic yet another person sneeze. The sound of someones
voice may make one person feel safe and secure while that same voice
may make another person anxious and irritable.
Relaxation plays an important role in all the creative arts. Dancers
never perform in class or on stage without relaxing first. Singers
would never dare to use their voices in performances without first
relaxing their vocal instrument. Same can be said for musicians.
Relaxation is also vital in all areas of acting and this includes
working on your sensory instrument. The acting instrument in general
can not function at its best when there is tension in the body.
Tension works as a road block to all creativity especially emotional
work. Good actors learn how to quickly relax their bodies. Beginning
with breathing exercises is mandatory. I mention this because in
order to do advance sensory work relaxation is imperative.
Advanced Sensory work!
Emotional recall is an example of advance sensory work. Emotional
Recall is our ability to recreate an experience from our past. (Some
actors label an emotional recall simply as a “recreative.”) Here is a
straightforward attempt to describe an emotional recall. After a
relaxation exercise the actor closes his eyes and remembers a time
he/she experienced a specific emotion. Once the actor identifies the
situation he/she begins to explore the sensory in the situation. I
recommend sight first. Exploring all you see in the environment.
Next, what you physically experienced, especially the atmosphere, was
it hot cold etc. What did your clothes feel like next to your body?
Next the odors. After you believe you have experienced all there is
with any one sensory you move on to the next sensory which in this
case is is sounds. Finally, taste.
Once you’ve explored each of the individual senses you review your
experience. By doing this you will find those specific sensory that
affected you the most. The sensory you will be able to use in the
future to recreate the emotions you need for a scene you are
performing. As with all exercises they must be practiced on a regular
It’s all very natural!
There is nothing unnatural about these processes. How do I know?
Because we do recreative’s in life all the time. We just don’t
deliberately do them. You remember a wedding or a funeral and you
smile or well up with tears. We as actors learn how to find the cause
for these tears and smiles, harness them so we can use them when we
If you question what I have written, which is not a bad thing, do your
research. On second thought, no matter what, do your research.
Google sensory acting. Read what the great acting teachers have said
about sensory. Google Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Sandy
Meisner all the greats. They will validate what I have said and, more
than likely, much more eloquently.
Sensory work as with all acting needs to be done in a classroom. Find
schools that are craft schools. Any school that doesn’t teach you all
the tools of acting should be avoided if you wish to be a serious
actor. One who plans on having a life long career.
Just a final note. Some teachers like to use the more scientific
terminology for our senses so here they are:
Seeing ——— Visual
For those of you who are new to my articles and for those of you who
read my articles regularly, I want to remind you that I support your
dreams and I only wish to enlighten you and help to make those dreams
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