The wedding tables were set. But was Mom?
It wasn’t that she wasn’t ready. Hair and makeup? Check. Rehearsal dinner dress? Check. Emotions? Well….
My sister-in-law faced an adventure any parent must find exhilarating. The wedding of her middle son of three and first of the boys to wed was the next day in a centuries-old ranch in Santa Margarita, California. The bride and groom would exchange vows and letters they wrote to each other against the backdrop of a huge, gnarly tree, then dance the night away in a party-lit barn built to protect the original stone and mortar walls that saw years of native inhabitants, Spanish padres and Franciscan missionaries.
No pressure, right? Just a few hundred guests cumulatively traveling thousands of miles in August heat to celebrate the joining of hearts and minds. Darn cool.
I looked over to Lisa, my beloved, energetic sis-in-law as the wedding eve dinner was concluding. About fifty bride and groom fans sat in a u-shaped table arrangement so she could clearly see everyone from her spot next to the head table. Lisa wasn’t eating though—she was preparing her toast.
Ah, the wedding toast! Is there anything more/less prepared and practiced? More, in that some write the whole thing out.
Less in that some wing it. The range of toast-prep techniques presented itself at the next day’s post-ceremony dinner when both my brother, Lisa’s husband and their oldest son, my nephew began their individual sentiments with “It’s twenty-fifteen, and…” My nephew continued with “…so I’m going to use my phone for notes since there’s a lot to say” and then my fifty-something brother followed his with “…so I’m going to use this post-it note.” Good ol’ pen and paper! My brother referred to both sides of the yellow sticky whereas my nephew scrolled through many screens. We teased that his became more of a roast than a toast.
Back to the night before at the rehearsal table, Lisa bowed over her multi-folded paper and reviewed her once-in-a-lifetime thoughts. She glanced up at me, her eyes showing some concern that she was actually going to do this thing. I gave her a hopefully assuring thumbs-up and smile.
But then it happened, as it may have to you in a heart-fueled moment of expression. Emotion got the better of Lisa within the first few sentences.
She tried to continue, but with throat-constricting feeling, choked words of apology and tears emerged rather than her prepared remarks. Lisa just couldn’t talk.
After a few more attempts to recover an interesting thing happened. Her Audience, family new and old vocalized words of support and engaged in applause. Her oldest son gave a loud “C’mon Mom” while he clapped even louder. Lisa’s Audience jumped to her rescue while experiencing powerful emotion of their own.
There is absolutely nothing a speaker, novice or professional can do with emotion other than let it happen. When it comes, it must run its course. And there is no greater lesson a speaker can experience than observing what happens as their body tries to recover when everything is going against the seemingly simple act of vocal production:
- Throat has to relax
- Emotion swallowed
- Breathing has to calm itself
- Purpose must be revisited
- Message must get back on track
All this and more while realizing that your emotion has big impact on your Audience? Observing that your feeling is powerful while giving a toast? Probably not. Before or after perhaps.
Great Actors know emotion well and leverage it to maximum effect. Too much emotion and their Audience will sense that it’s more about the Actor than them. Too little and the opportunity to experience true feeling is lost. Actors’ rehearsal is about diligence in finding the right balance of emotion and story delivery. And reserving the most potent stuff for fresh impact during performance. Time after time.
The great news for Lisa and all of us Actors is that our Audience is with us and emotion is compelling. Opening ourselves to our feeling and letting it happen honors our collective, heartfelt experience.
Oh, by the way, Lisa did get through her toast nicely and ended strong by presenting a meaningful memento to her new daughter. Talk about emotion—whew! Here’s to Lisa, the newlyweds, friends and family who all gathered in a wonderful celebration.
Your stage. Your performance. And with emotion running its course, you’re on!