How actors make bodily functions look and feel real onstage

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At its best, theater explores and exposes the human condition. This usually means examining our behavior, our heart and our soul.

But these souls are always accompanied by bodies, and actors often must manage the delicate act of performing bodily functions on stage. Crying and laughing are common, but sometimes actors have to mime more delicate things, like coughing, sneezing or even vomiting or having an orgasm.

For the audience to believe what is happening on stage, actors must combine emotional commitment with physical skills. “These actions have to feel authentic because these are things that the audience members have all experienced,” says Isabella Costa, who had to have an orgasm on stage in “An Evening of One-Acts by Ethan Coen,” at the Hudson Guild Theater . “If it seems like they’re faking it, you lose faith in the actors and you lose all disbelief.”

Each actor takes his own trail to the point of tears. Veralyn Jones, who played Mama in South Coast Rep's “A Raisin in the Sun,” says she “moves very easily.” After connecting with her character, she says crying on stage comes naturally to her.

As Paris in “Romeo and Juliet: Love Is Fire” at the Santa Monica Playhouse, Gavin Mulcahy had to cry over Juliet's corpse. To do this, he went to another place. “I take several minutes of solitude before going in and bury my face in my arms, fake unsteady breathing, and embrace despair,” he says. Although he generally relied on his character's “dramatic stakes” for this series, he relied on personal triggers to find those emotions. “It’s more efficient, but also more demanding.”

Meanwhile, Costa recalls painful memories during rehearsals to prepare. “Once I’m on stage, I don’t think about the time my grandmother was sick. I am present, in the moment, watching my fellow actor.

Some actors cry while looking at the stage lights or holding their breath. Esperanza America, who had to cry during a confrontation in Latino Theater Co.'s recent production of “Tacos La Brooklyn,” finds tears in her voice. “I go into a deeper vocal register in my body and the emotion becomes easier,” she says. “Making it sound like my voice is crying may trigger the body to do so, but even if the tears don't come, the audience feels the emotion.”

Daniel Dorr, who breaks down in “Baby Foot” at Rogue Machine Theater, focuses on his body's reaction to a tense situation. “If you focus on your breathing and your body, then your body's alarm bells start to ring – your body doesn't know it's a play – and find the emotions for you. There's something magical about that.

Laughing artificially and authentically can be more difficult, Costa says, although in the Coen play, she and her co-stars start laughing in the dark, meaning they can push or punch each other before the lights go off. light up. “Then we start laughing and I feel like I’m laughing with friends,” she says. Another actor in this scene, Harry White, adds that a third actor is a gifted improvisational comedian who always finds a way to provoke laughter just before the scene begins.

Coughing is easier to fake, but playing a seriously ill character makes it “more dangerous because you can hurt your voice,” says Samuel Garnett, who recently starred in Will Arbery's “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” on Rogue Machine . Additionally, he says, “in some people, myself included, coughing can cause retching. So it's the least fun.

None of these actors have ever sneezed on stage, but several say it's the bodily function that would scare them the most. “I'm so embarrassed by sneezing,” America says, while Jones says the involuntary nature of it seems intimidating. “You feel a real sneeze coming up inside you, so I don’t know how to make that real.”

Dorr once had to sneeze for a commercial audition and says, “It was maybe the hardest thing I've ever had to do as an actor.” »

On the other hand, an orgasm on stage can be better controlled using technique. Costa's onstage orgasm was played more for laughs. She reads a newspaper at a desk and says “Oh my God” six times; at first the audience thinks she is reading something shocking, but when she folds the newspaper and changes her breathing and the tone of her exclamations, they realize that someone under the desk is pleasing her.

“We wanted it to be both comedic and realistic – we're not trying to excite the audience,” says Costa, adding that the comedic element was more intimidating than orgasming in front of an audience. “I’m nervous about doing comedy. There's not a lot of physicality in the office, so it comes from my breathing and my voice. (She says, laughing, that she didn't rely on personal memories for this, but re-watched the famous deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally.”)

Emotionally, the opposite of an orgasm can be a yawn. But Evelyn Rudie, co-artistic director of the Santa Monica Playhouse, says her theater considers the action verboten. “We've never seen an actor yawn because it immediately makes the audience yawn and, of course, that's the last thing you want.”

Still, some unpleasant actions, like vomiting, require a bit of stage magic in addition to acting prowess to pull off. Garnett's character in “Heroes”, Kevin, is a blackout drunk. At one point, Kevin rushed off stage mid-speech to pee. Upon his return, he remained silent for a brief scene before his exorcist-level expulsion. Garnett foreshadowed the main event by shivering, quivering and almost gagging in earlier scenes.

Off stage, he stuffed his mouth with a concoction of oatmeal and applesauce. “We started rehearsals with applesauce and Diet Coke,” says Garnett. “At one point we mixed in some chunked blueberries, then our director wanted green, so we cut the leaves off the strawberries before finishing with applesauce and oatmeal.”

Behind the scenes, he hastily chewed it for “a more believable texture”, pushing it in as much as possible without creating physical tension or revealing it before the explosion. “The vomiting was meant to shock the audience and make them sympathize with Kevin when he is so depressed and vulnerable,” he says. “It gave me the strength to stay engaged in the next scene with my mouth full.”

Garnett experimented with retching sounds to heighten the misery of the moment. “I had a tendency to choke and let the sound come out,” he recalls. “I managed to get back from the edge before anything happened.”

Kevin complained that vomit had gotten into his nose and was stinging, so Garnett decided to insistently blow his nose and cry following the scene for maximum effect.

“My sinuses were fully active,” he says dryly. “The stage endured everything, seasoning the floor. And that’s theater.

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