How Does Your Character Hide Trauma?

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New character building questions for You.

When I was in acting class with Larry Moss we would start each class with an exercise. We would get quiet and listen to our breath and then do a body scan beginning at our toes. We would ask each part of our bodies to release as we moved upwards in our minds. Around the room you could hear various responses at various points. If you were paying attention. In our own bodies, which was where our attention was to be anyway, we would find areas of tension and relaxation. The mere asking to release would evoke anything from a slight giggle to an all out ugly cry bawl.

It was fascinating, and for those of you not versed in this art, it was a major part of our work. In order to play someone you have to allow all your defenses to release. You cannot play someone well if you are protecting yourself from anything really. It is why actors are such an emotional bunch. Our emotions are our bread and butter. They need to be accessible and while we are learning this we can be rather raw. Our bodies and everything we hide there can either help or hinder our performances. Unlike what you might have heard using your own emotional experiences is not the path. Our own emotions can bottle up inside us and we can block them, or become so inured to them that they have no life. Instead we must use our imagination, and our experiences to breathe life into the new human life we create.

Like writing.

I am not sure I agree with this completely. We also have to be careful not to get so wrapped up in our oceans of emotions that it doesn’t translate to the camera, stage or page. One of the lessons you learn is that crying is not emotionally connective in a performance. What connects us is seeing someone trying not to cry. think about it for a moment. The end of The Champ for instance. Rick Shroeder is trying really hard not to cry but the little boy that he is can hardly contain himself. But he is trying to.

How does trauma show up in your character?


How does your character hide? Do they hide? Do they hide fear by being a bully or by shutting out the world? Do they confront their emotions or get so busy they never have to consider them? Does their back go out? Do they get sick to the stomach or with a cold? Do they do drugs or drink or eat or gamble? Do they volunteer? Do they volunteer at school so much, under the guise of time with their kids, that they have no time for their kids? What is that about? (I have known so many parents like that over my 22 years of having kids.)

Or do they put their trauma out there for everyone to see? Do they act the victim or the advocate? Use their trauma to their personal gain or help others through something similar? Is it a badge of courage or shame?


What level is the trauma? Is it a skinned knee or a broken leg? My best friend since the age of 9 is a wise woman named Anne. She knows me all to well and was with me for many skinned knees and one broken ankle. We went ice skating(I had been skating 3 times a week for 4 months at this point) I caught my toe pick and went down, ankle broken. When we found out it was broken(the next day btw I am no wimp) she said, “Angelique, you cry at a paper cut and laugh at a broken ankle.” Many years later my back went out and I called my orthopedist–the one who fixed the ankle–I needed an appointment right then as I had no idea what was wrong but I couldn’t take a deep breath. I was on the phone and when they said there were no appointments–he heard me crying through the phone. I heard him say, “who’s on the phone?” When the nurse said it was me he replied, “Get her in here, Angelique doesn’t cry.” But paper cuts? Watch OUT! LOL.

I am better now. I find a stream of profanity covers most pain and if it doesn’t I have been known to take some tylenol.

There are many ways to react. Remember not everyone reacts like you. People will laugh instead of crying. or the reverse. My husband has a well rehearsed stream of profanity that has an actual rhythm to it. It showed up with the building of the stroller when our eldest was born. The shrink wrap on the post that held the wheel, OMG, that was the piece that put him over the edge. But some people cry in the same situation. Does anger make them quiet or loud? Does frustration make them cry or laugh or throw things. What about joy? Do they cry or laugh?

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