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By Faith Hibbs-Clark

As an actor, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to cry on cue. This can be a difficult task, especially if you want it to look genuine and not overly dramatic. To help you master this skill, it's important to understand the science of tears and why certain methods just don't cut it!

The Complex Nature of Tears

Tears are often associated with sadness, but they are actually a complex response to various emotions and brain functions. There are three types of tears:

  1. Basal tears: These are constantly produced to keep our eyes lubricated.

  2. Reflex tears: These are produced as a response to irritants, like dust or smoke.

  3. Emotional tears: These are the tears we shed when we experience strong emotions, such as sadness, joy, pain, or frustration.

Emotional tears contain hormones and natural painkillers, which is why crying can sometimes make us feel better. They are triggered by the Limbic system, which is responsible for regulating our emotions. When we experience strong emotions, our brain sends signals to the tear glands, telling them to produce tears.

Spotting the difference between an emotional tear and basal or reflex tears can be a subtle but crucial aspect in determining the authenticity of an actor's performance. Emotional tears tend to be more viscous (thick, sticky consistency) and have a higher protein content than basal or reflex tears. While it may be challenging to identify these differences visually, emotional tears often manifest alongside other indicators of genuine emotion, such as facial expressions, vocal tone, and body language. Emotional tears are typically accompanied by reddening of the eyes, swelling, and a more pronounced quivering of the lower eyelid. In contrast, basal and reflex tears usually lack these accompanying emotional cues. They may appear more transparent and less substantial, primarily serving their purpose of lubricating or protecting the eyes from irritants. Paying attention to these subtle differences and the overall emotional context can help distinguish between believable and fake tears from an actor.

Showing Emotions Without Tears

Before diving into how to "cry on cue," let's remember that emotions can be expressed in many different ways. As an actor, you should explore various techniques to convey emotions without relying solely on tears. Facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone can all be powerful tools for communicating a broad range of emotions.

Methods Actors Use to Cry That Don't Work

Actors have developed all kinds of ineffective ways to cry on cue. As a casting director for 25-plus years, believe me when I say I have seen it all! I once had an actor clasp a thumb tack in his hand to cause him enough pain to trigger tears. When I told him to stop, he replied defensively, "My acting coach told me to do that." I told him to get a new acting coach.

1) Using physical pain: Some actors resort to inflicting physical pain on themselves in order to make themselves cry.

Why it doesn't work: Using physical pain to induce tears may not be an effective method for producing genuine emotional tears because the brain processes pain and emotions through different neural pathways. While physical pain can activate the release of stress hormones and trigger a reflexive tear response, it does not engage the limbic system, which is responsible for regulating emotions and generating emotional tears. As a result, the tears produced through physical pain may lack the emotional authenticity needed for a convincing performance. Furthermore, resorting to self-inflicted pain can have negative consequences on your physical and mental well-being, making it an unsustainable and potentially harmful approach to eliciting tears.

But even less extreme methods fall short when it comes to crying on cue. Here are two more techniques that don't work and the science for why they are not that effective.

2) Recalling personal memories: By thinking about a sad or emotional event from your past, you can trigger genuine tears.

Why it doesn't work: Recalling personal memories to trigger genuine tears may not always work due to the brain's ability to adapt and process emotions over time. As we experience and cope with emotional events, our brain creates new neural pathways, allowing us to regulate and manage our emotional responses more effectively. This means that revisiting a past sad memory might not evoke the same intensity of emotion as it once did, making it difficult for you to consistently generate tears on cue using this method. Furthermore, the brain can distinguish between real-life situations and acting scenarios, which may hinder the emotional response when attempting to recall personal memories in an artificial context.

3. Using physical triggers: Some actors use tricks like yawning, looking at bright lights, or even using menthol-based products to stimulate tear production.

Why it doesn't work: Using physical triggers to stimulate tear production may not be effective in producing genuine emotional tears because these methods primarily induce reflex tears, which are different from emotional tears in terms of composition and purpose. Reflex tears are a response to irritants or external stimuli, whereas emotional tears are triggered by the limbic system, which regulates our emotions. Since the brain can differentiate between these types of tears, relying on physical triggers may result in tears that lack the emotional weight and authenticity required for a convincing performance. Additionally, these methods might cause discomfort or irritation, which could distract you from fully immersing yourself in your character's emotional state.

Crocodile Tears Won't Cut I

Emotional tears form as a result of a complex response that physical triggers or forced memories can't easily replicate and may result in an actor forming fake-looking "Crocodile tears."

Crocodile tears is a term derived from the ancient belief that crocodiles wept while consuming their prey and refers to insincere or feigned emotional displays in humans. The science behind crocodile tears can be traced to the involuntary activation of the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII), which controls tear production and facial expressions. In certain situations, such as when a person is trying to manipulate others or mask their true emotions, the brain may send mixed signals to the facial nerve, resulting in an incongruent emotional display, such as shedding tears without genuine sadness. In psychology, crocodile tears symbolize emotional deception and highlight the complex interplay between the brain, emotions, and social interactions.

In conclusion, understanding the science of tears and why other "cry on cue" methods don't work is the first step in learning to cry on cue without looking fake or overly dramatic.

Want to learn a safe yet effective neuroscience approach to crying on cue?

CALL TO ACTION: Don't miss out on this month's special topic class: "Science of Crying on Cue." Join us for a 2.5-hour live online workshop where you'll discover a safe, scientifically proven method to generate tears and cry on cue effectively. Delve into a range of emotionally charged scripts and learn how to convey those emotions in a believable and captivating manner. Enhance your acting skills and elevate your performances by mastering the art of authentic emotional expression. Sign up now and unlock your full potential as an actor with the "Acting Science" method!


About Faith Hibbs-Clark

Faith is a body language expert who specialized in deception detection before becoming a casting director and working in the film industry for over 25 years. She is the creator and founder of the Communication Method for Actors, LLC.

By Faith Hibbs-Clark, CMFA Founder

When it comes to memorization, one style of learning does not fit all. Acting teachers often teach their students the memorization technique that works best for them. This is why the teacher's technique for memorization will work for some students in class but not all. If you have ever felt like the memorization technique your acting teacher and other students in your class use is just not working for you, it's not your fault. There is nothing wrong with you!

1) Understand How Memorization Works in Your Brain

So what is the neuroscience behind memorization? You have two types of memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Short-term memory is like saving something to your iCloud, and long-term memory is like downloading it to your hard drive. Short-term memory is flimsy and vulnerable to your own anxieties & fear. If you memorize and only commit the words to your short-term memory, you are at high risk of forgetting your lines if you start to feel anxiety in an audition. Fear constricts the blood vessels in your brain, and that makes it harder to recall the information. If you have ever experienced "audition amnesia," you know this to be true.

2) Determine your Brain's Learning Style

Determine what your learning style is and use memorization tactics that work with that style. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you might record your lines and play them on a loop while driving in your car or while you are sleeping. If you are a visual learner, you might want to practice with your eyes closed and create a “mind mansion” where each room is associated with the delivery of a particular line. If you are a tactile learner, you might run your finger over each word as you memorize it. There are many ways to memorize, but the most effective ways will be those that are connected to your individual learning style.

3) Practice Perfectly Until it Becomes Muscle Memory

Your brain will memorize mistakes, so don't allow yourself to make any. Instead, make sure that you are saying the words correctly. Some directors don't care if you change the words a little, as long as it doesn't change the meaning of the scene, but others want it to be exact. Your job as an actor is to try to memorize the words as they are written. If someone is testing you, or you are testing yourself, don't allow even the slightest mistake. As you are practicing, fix errors immediately; otherwise, your brain will also memorize the mistake. With practice, you can commit the lines to muscle memory.

What is muscle memory? It is not a muscle at all, but it can be trained like one. Memories are not stored in your muscles, but we use this term to indicate when things are able to be repeated easily without thinking much about it. Sometimes, we can do things without thinking about it at all. It is a "subconscious" ability that can be triggered as needed. When people "play by ear" without music sheets, they are doing this by muscle memory. You can easily adapt this to your work as an actor.

CALL TO ACTION: Do you want to learn your memorization style and do my 28-day self-paced Science of Memorization course? This program has been designed to help you cut your memorization time in half. Follow the daily steps to see what it can do for YOU! Now just $67! CLICK HERE NOW to learn more.

By Faith Hibbs-Clark, Founder

As an actor, your body must become an extension of your character. Have you ever considered the power of hand gestures in portraying a character? Hand gestures can provide valuable clues about a person's behavior and personality. Understanding their meanings can help you develop a more authentic and convincing character. In this article, we will explore some common hand gestures and their hidden meanings and provide some tips for actors on how to use them to communicate more effectively.

The human hand is an incredibly expressive part of the body, and we use it to communicate our feelings, desires, and intentions. For example, a clenched fist can represent anger or determination, while a palm-up gesture can convey openness or vulnerability. By understanding these gestures, actors can bring a greater sense of authenticity to their characters.

Let's explore some examples of common hand gestures and their secret meanings:

1) Crossed arms: This gesture communicates defensiveness, resistance, or discomfort. It is commonly used when a character is feeling insecure or threatened.

2) Choppy hand movements: These quick, sharp gestures are often used to convey aggression or impatience. They can also indicate a lack of control or restraint.

3) Clasping hands: This gesture can represent a desire for comfort, support, or reassurance. It is often used when a character is feeling vulnerable or uncertain.

4) Pointing: This gesture can be used to signify aggression, frustration, or urgency. It can also be used to direct attention to a specific object or person.

5) The Palm: Showing an open palm is a gesture of sincerity, honesty, and peace. However, a raised palm can show stop or stay-away signals.

6) The Rub: Rubbing one's hands together can indicate greed or anticipation. It might also convey your character's nervousness.

7) The Flick: A flick is a subtle yet powerful gesture that can be used to show indifference, impatience, or irritation. It involves a quick, dismissive movement of the hand.

8) Hidden Birdie Gesture: This gesture is formed when someone gestures with their middle finger slightly extended. It can be used to signify hidden anger in a passive-aggressive manner. This is one of my personal favorites because it is not a commonly known hand gesture, but the meaning of it can easily be felt.

As an actor, understanding the hidden meaning behind these hand gestures can help you to embody your character better and bring a sense of authenticity to your performance. Incorporating hand gestures that align with the character’s emotions or personality can enhance the credibility of the scene.

Using Hand Gestures to Convey Character & Personalities:

Hand gestures can help actors convey their character's emotions and personalities. For example, a person who is hiding something might fidget with their hands or keep them in their pockets. A confident and powerful character might use expansive gestures, while a shy and introverted character might use more subtle gestures. The key is to use hand gestures that feel authentic to the character and the situation.

Hand Gestures for Specific Contexts:

To use hand gestures more effectively, actors must first consider the emotional context of the scene and the character's personality.

Hand gestures can also be used to create emotional context-specific behaviors for characters. For example, a doctor might use specific hand gestures during a surgery, or a chef might use hand gestures while cooking. Using context-specific hand gestures can help actors bring realism and authenticity to their performances.

Hand Gestures to Show Different Cultures:

It is essential to be aware of cultural differences in hand gestures and to make sure that your character's gestures match their cultural background. For example, the okay sign in the United States shows approval. However, in some countries, such as Brazil, it is considered an obscene gesture. Researching cultural differences in hand gestures could be the detail in an audition that helps them get the part.

It’s important to remember that hand gestures are just one aspect of the body language that actors use to convey emotional context, meaning, and personality. However, by mastering the use of hand gestures, actors can create a more compelling and realistic portrayal of their characters.

Hand gestures are a powerful visual communication tool in the actor's toolbox. They can reveal much about a character's emotional state, motives, and personality. By mastering the use of hand gestures, actors can bring an added sense of authenticity to their performances and maintain the audience's engagement which we call "neural coupling" in the CMFA "Acting Science" method.

Faith is a body language expert who specialized in deception detection before becoming a casting director and working in the film industry for over 25 years. She is the founder of the Communication Method for Actors, LLC & the creator of the Acting Science Method ™. 

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