How to Stop Corpsing on Stage or in Rehearsal

How to Stop Corpsing on Stage or in Rehearsal

Many thanks to Mahmoud Osman for asking his question about uncontrollable laughter in rehearsal or even on stage. This is what we in Britain call ‘corpsing’. Many great actors like Brian Blessed are notorious corpsers, but there’s no shame in it – it’s very natural. However, it’s not something that’s desired and so you need help to prevent it.

Let’s start with an idea. When you find something funny, you laugh. When you’re under pressure and you find something funny, the laughter is a way of letting out the pressure. When you’re under pressure and you want to laugh and you stifle the laughter, it creates more pressure. Laughter is a natural and spontaneous part of being an actor. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it cannot be willed away. However, it may not feel appropriate, or perhaps your character should not be laughing at that time.

An MFA student told Mahmoud he should get further into character. Nonsense! There is no character to get further into. That’s as useful as suggesting if you get a flat tyre that you should become one with the wheel. Character is a collection of actions, the sum of your characteristics and the sum of the things that you do. When you do these things in the pursuit of a goal, using someone else’s words, and before an audience, it’s called theatre. And so the illusion of character is created for the audience. The instruction to go ‘deeper’ into character is hogwash. This will not help you one bit with the corpsing. BUT, there are solutions.

Laughing is natural and during rehearsal, you should feel free to express laughter when you find something funny. The director might not consider it appropriate and you may feel a little embarrassed that the laughter keeps poking out. True, true.

You need to set your focus onto a task. You might call it an objective, a goal, or an essential action, and you need to be in the process of achieving it during your performance, whether in rehearsal or on stage. It’s no use trying to achieve the character’s task, objective, goal or essential action, because you are not that person. You need something that you can do personally, although it does need to have similarities to the task of the character. So, if you find yourself corpsing, it means you do not have anything concrete to focus on.  You need to choose a strong essential action and then set about trying to achieve it:

Some examples of an Essential Action:

  • To get someone to back down
  • To get someone to hold up their end of the deal
  • To get someone to let their hair down
  • To get someone to join the party
  • To get someone to reveal the terrible truth
  • To get someone to stand on their own two teeth
  • To get someone to ride the bull
  • To get someone to crown me Queen
  • To get someone to give me the greenlight

Of course there are many more of these – hundreds. But let me repeat, it’s pointless having an essential action that you have to ‘believe’ in. Anything that your common sense will junk as ‘nonsense’ will be nothing more than deluding yourself. Have a practical task that’s capable of being done and has its test in the other person. You’ll soon realise that you were so focused during the show/rehearsal/take that you didn’t have the time to laugh or do anything else for that matter.

I hope this helps. All the best


Mark Westbrook is a professional acting coach based in Glasgow, Scotland.

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