Rein in the Giggle Smirks

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“Don’t let nervous tics intrude on the delivery of your lines.”

With arched eyebrow, you’re wondering, “What in the hell is a giggle smirk? And while about it, what’s up with my fetish for silly words?

As far as I know, I am the original coiner of terms like giggle smirk and drop sigh and smiley tic (which I’ll be introducing further down), but let me assure you they are not some narcissistic way of developing my own proprietary acting vocabulary. My aim is simply to puzzle out some easy catch phrases to describe concepts that, at best, are hard to put into words.

Let me address giggle smirks first with a true story. 

When my elderly grandmother fell and broke her spine, she ended up in a post-acute rehabilitation facility — that’s a nice way of saying convalescent hospital. The administrator, a composed and cordially business woman named Barbara, met with our family to go over the details of what would be a very long recovery. She was friendly and patient with us, but Barbara had a peculiar way of responding to some of our thornier questions about my grandmother’s prognosis. We’d ask a pointed question, and she’d answer with a nervous, closed-mouthed chuckle. It was a nervous tic that was tagged onto the end of every sentence.

It rather confounds description in terms of the written word.

Finding the perfect way of characterizing Barbara’s slightly unnerving chuckle turns out to be one of the more interesting challenges in writing this blog entry. If anything calls for an onomatopoeic word creation, this is it. Spelled out, with a proper emoji set in place for the strongest possible elucidation, Barbara’s giggle smirk would go something like this:

“When your grandmother is able leave the hospital, she’s going to require 24-hour care (h’mn h’mn h’mn ).” It reminded me of one of those silly, smiley face emojis people like to add to text messages and Facebook posts.

There is probably a psychological term for giggle smirk, but it doesn’t take a PhD to understand Barbara’s adding of a proverbial smiley face to the end of each sentence was her way of smoothing the spiked edges of life-and-death topics of discussion:

My aunt:  When will Grandma be able to bathe without help?
Barbara:  Not for at least six weeks, I’m afraid. (h’mn h’mn h’mn ) 

I see it happen all the time on stage. Much the same way some actors unconsciously let drop sighs sneak into their line deliver — and unconscious way of deflating feelings that arise from gloomy or unsettling moments — so do some actors let loose with awkward giggle smirks at the most inappropriate moments, often turning a tender exchange of dialog into something that renders silly.

Kissing cousin to both the giggle smirk and the drop sigh (which I discuss at length in Badass Acting) is another bad acting habit with equal power to defuse energy from your performance. This one I have aptly tagged the “smiley tic.” It is the nervous tendency to allow a forced smile (usually followed an audible exhalation of breath) to take over your face. As with drop sighs and giggle smirks, a smiley tic is a way of unconsciously detaching from one’s responsibility to the scene. 

You don’t have to use my terminology — I realize, sound they sound like candy treats from the Wilbur Chocolate factory — but since this is my blog, I’ll freely use my own, proprietary terms to pound this counsel into your brain: never let nervous tics (like drop sighs, or smiley tics or giggle smirks) intrude on the delivery of your lines; never let loose your connection to the scene.

There is an easy way to eliminate these (and any) bad acting habits: firmly resolve to break them. Like thwarting any bad habit, it takes a concerted effort, multiplied by a requisite amount of time. In the end, persistence always wins out, and bad acting habits — which are small-fry propensities when compared to smoking crack and opioid addiction — always fade and die, leaving your talent free to soar in the vacuum created from their removal. 

More tips and topics to review below!

Gregory Itzin

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