Friday, July 29, 2005

On ACTING: "Sympathy vs. Self-Pity"

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'sympathy' as "the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another". 'Self-pity', sympathy for oneself, excludes sharing it with others. It is self-containing. It is inner directed. When an actor exhibits 'self-pity', the audience is distanced. Think of it this way: there is only so much sympathy possible in an auditorium or theatre. The more the character feels sorry for himself, the less is available for the audience to feel. As a corollary, the less the character feels for himself, the greater the possibility for the audience to feel for him.

Don't indulge in pain. Turn pain outward into corrective, solving energy. Two children are saddenened by the death of a mother. One child cries and cries in abundant self-pity; the other child, while feeling equally sad, tries bravely to help carry the coffin. Who do you feel more sympathy for? The latter. By not induging in one's own sadness, greater sympathy is engendered. Under the same amount of emotional duress, act bravely and I will sympathize with you. Exclude me through self-directed-pity, you've co-opted all my sympathy...and I will leave you alone to wallow in your own pain.

A FINAL NOTE in this regard. Emotionally indulgent bad acting (whish often occurs when an actor is manipulating their own emotion rather than letting outer stimuli activate it) unfortunately creates what also appears to be a 'self-pitying' character. The actor's emotion is inner activated and self-centered; and thereby appears 'self-pityingly'. The result is audience off-putting-ness. A good actor's performance does not overly embrace emotion, either honestly activated or falsely activated. Embrace your emotion too tightly, you lose audience embrace..which, in the long run, is a far more satisfying than any possible self-embrace.


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