An Actor's Guide to Tears and Crying on Cue

Cruella de Vil
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If you were challenged to produce real tears within the next sixty seconds, could you do it?

Physically producing genuine tears is one of the most difficult challenges for actors, especially those who perform live on stage. Actors use a variety of ways to elicit tears.

Tricks of the Tears

  1. Memory Driven Tears
  2. If you are like most human beings, you have probably had a good cry—maybe while watching a sad movie or maybe after a break-up. Of course, some tears are produced because of extreme grief or pain, and sometimes we cry when we experience profound moments of joy. Actors can recall these memories and produce "real" tears.
  3. To cry "memory-driven tears," actors must be able to access past emotions. During the rehearsal process, recall an intense emotional experience and then say your lines. Choose the right memory for the right part. Find ways to connect the script's lines with personal moments.
  4. Tap into Your Fears
  5. Some actors don't think about actual events in their life. Memories might not be enough for a successful crying jag. Instead, before and during the scene, the actor imagines tragic events that never actually happened—but that would be devastating if they did occur. Some actors perform their scenes while imagining the loss of a beloved pet or family member. Others imagine what it would be like to find out that they have a terminal illness.
  6. Both of the techniques discussed so far take a lot of imagination, emotional awareness, and most of all—diligent practice.
  7. Be in the Moment
  8. "Being in the moment" means that an actor is so focused on what the character is going through that tears are produced out of pure empathy with the character's situation. This typically works best when an actor is completely engrossed in the script. Playwrights such as Shakespeare, Miller, and a few others who crafted eloquent and powerful scenes make this crying method easier for actors to achieve.​

What Happens If There Is No Emotional Connection?

Unfortunately, there is a problem with the "Be In The Moment" technique. It does not work in every play. What if you have to cry, but you personally don't "feel" it? Any actor who has performed in a less than wonderful or poorly written play will find it nearly impossible to cry on cue. It is hard to "be in the moment" when you do not truly value the power of the play.

In this case, there are a few more "tricks of the tears" that might help lacrimation.

  1. The Staring Method
  2. Close your eyes. Rub them. (Don't rub them too hard; you don't want to hurt yourself.) Now, you are ready to perform. While delivering your lines, make certain that you do not blink. Just continue to stare. For most people who stare longer than 30 seconds, their eyes begin to water. Ta-da! Realistic tears!
  3. The Menthol Method
  4. TV and film actors have the benefit of working with an entire crew of technicians and artists. Although some movie stars utilize some of the techniques mentioned above, many actors opt for an easier solution: menthol.
  5. A menthol tear stick and menthol tear producers are tools of the film and theater trade. The stick version requires a sparse application under the eyes. The tear producer works as a spray. Both produce immediate results.

Crying Is More Than Just Tears

Keep in mind that tears are not the only means to convey extreme grief or misty-eyed happiness. To quote Ursula, the sea witch in The Little Mermaid: "Don't forget the importance of body language!"