How to avoid the Emotional Map Trap

How to Avoid the Emotional Map Trap


When you ask a student actor about a scene, they will often say something like this:

“She’s really angry when she comes in, he tries to persuade her that it was a mistake but she has been betrayed before and doesn’t trust easily, but she loves him and she wants to believe and in the end, she gives in to her feelings and sleeps with him.”

This is what we call an Emotional Map. It covers the emotional ground the student actor sees in the script.

It’s nice to have an idea about how the scene goes down, but this student fails to understand the scene.

At best, this is an emotional re-telling of the plot of the scene. It does not help the actor to understand or play the scene. When I say understand don’t misunderstand me. I know you know the words and sentences and what they mean.



I am talking about having a professional understanding of the scene from the perspective of a trained actor. That understanding begins with avoiding the Emotional Map Trap.

The Emotional Map Trap is when your departure point for acting the scene is the emotional map. The Emotional Map does not provide you with the map of how to act the scene. If you instead try to go on an emotional journey, you try to show the audience your feelings, you will indicate, broadcast, force your emotions.  This is called playing a state. The trap of the emotional map is that it encourages you to play a state.


To avoid the Emotional Map Trap, you must get to the cause of the behaviour of the character in the scene. Emotion is an important part of the scene. But the better question to ask is - if she is angry - what does she do? Turning emotion into playable action makes it actable.

To understand this, you must ask one more question. What does the character want. This will help you see that the map of the scene follows a through-line.  A through-line is a clear route through the scene as the character attempts to get what they want. The result of this for the actor is a moment to moment work with playable actions. The actable verbs that bring a scene to life and form the basis of acting.

To avoid the Emotional Map Trap - play action.

To You, The Best


Mark Westbrook is the author of Truth in Action 

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The 12 Obstacles

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