Live theater makes me cry. Doesn’t matter what the show is, the second the lights dim, the overture starts and the curtain goes up, I get choked. That all too familiar burn behind the eyes starts and I’m overwhelmed by the sheer power of LIFE infusing every one of us in the audience.

Can’t really say what causes this emotional surge. Maybe it’s the anticipatory energy filling the house, maybe it’s the pre-show vibes emanating from the actors waiting in the wings. Maybe it’s the thought of all the work that goes into a single production, and that these are live people singing, dancing and telling a story right in front of me. Who knows?

I mean, really, who cries when the curtain goes up on Sister Act  or La Cage?

This season, the one production I looked forward to the most was War Horse. Perhaps you saw the movie when it came out last year. It’s your typical horse story. Boy meets horse, falls in love with horse, boy and horse are separated, both have an amazing journey during WWI, boy and horse are reunited. Stunning cinematography, decent acting, enjoyable family flick.

But…you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this production on stage.

Much like the Broadway production of The Lion King (and yes, the opening strains for Circle of Life get me every time too…live or movie), War Horse depends on puppetry for the main characters, sets and props.

The stage was sparse, consisting of only a single swatch of cream colored banner across the back of the stage where they projected various landscape images. The rest of the time, the actors and chorus provided the set trappings. People holding up poles to make a fence, puppeteers darting in and out with a flock of birds in the sky or a feisty barnyard goose (who took a bow at the curtain call).

The main star of the show was Joey, the horse. Joey is a stunning compilation of cane, fabric and cables that when his handlers do their dance, bring this puppet to life.

Joey, and all the horses in the production, are life-sized puppets that dominate the stage. The puppeteers studied horse behavior and do it so well that after a while you forget there are people there at all. Just take a look at this video as the creators talk at TED about how they went about developing the horses.

It’s in this talk that one of the creators calls it “Emotional engineering”. That phrase struck a chord with me and it’s one I wish I had thought of first. This is storytelling at it’s finest. Writers, painters, musicians…all of us who create are Emotional Engineers, aren’t we? Our words and images evoke emotions on the deepest level (if we’re doing it right!). Think of how much power you hold as an Emotional Engineer. Somewhere, someone is putting down your book and walking away because the emotion YOU created is so very real in their heads they have to take a break and compose themselves. A song has the power to stir memories, good or bad. A painting or sculpture can make you weep, laugh or shake your fist.

This is what turns on the waterworks for me at the start of each play I go see. The anticipation of raw emotion reaches in and pulls hard. I’m open and ready for the story and all it has to give. It’s beautiful, it’s magical, it’s the fine art of storytelling.

It makes me want to go home and dive back into my own stories and makes me wonder how the hell our Packmates are going to get through Legacies when it comes out. Talk about deep emotion, this one is off the charts and we can’t wait for you all to read it.

How about you? What books, plays, movies, songs move you? What is it about them that made them stick in your mind and heart? Did any of them change your life? Let us know in the comments!


Reader Interactions


  1. One of the most powerful practices I have implemented in my life has been to commit myself to “show up”! It is so easy to think we can be omnipresent simply because we can multi-task and connect on ten different cyber-platforms at once. In reality we end up being nowhere all at once. I became acutely aware of this a few years ago. Although there are still times when life gets really busy and I too fall back to my multi-tasking-omnipresent default behavior, I make a sincere effort to be where I am, prepared to be no place else. This is something that I also teach my clients. This one simple change has the power to improve the quality of every area of your life.

    I could not possibly list all the books, movies, songs and plays that have moved me to tears, but then again, I have cried at every Disney movie I have ever watched. Really there is not one exception. The movies, “The Color Purple” and “Rocky IV” (no judging here), both impacted me at a very deep level. I am a person who rarely watches a movie twice and I have seen “The Color Purple” at least 19 times and “Rocky IV” comes in at second place with 12 or 13 times, eight of which were AT THE CINEMA! This was before everyone had a big flat screen at home and I really wanted to be surrounded by the energy coming from those stories on the movie screen; the stories behind the stories. Triumph over tragedy. The unstoppable human spirit. The need and the longing to belong.

    I have had emotional meltdowns and blowups reading books of different genres, from children’s stories to “The Alchemist” and “Energy Leadership”, the first business book that made me cry.

    I won’t even get started with music. Oh my. I love music. I am in awe of its power to inspire and to make us dream. I am also a hobby singer and songwriter, and to acknowledge myself as an emotional engineer, well, I will paraphrase a song from the famous group, the BeeGees; “It’s just emotions taking me over…”
    This is a great post! P.s. The two of us should never see a movie together ?

    • Denise, you’re not alone. I watch Rocky IV (that’s the one with the Russian, right?) every time they’re on. I’m right there with you on music, too. I have playlists for every mood and a couple made up of nothing but songs that serve as a soundtrack to the BBS Saga.

      We should most definitely go see a movie together! I think we’d have a great time.

  2. I can remember a favorite time when I had a moment such as you described.
    It was my first time in Las Vegas. I was viewing one of Steve Wynn’s collections at the Bellagio Art Gallery. Walking along, I was more worried about the hand held audio tour guide then I was the art until I looked up. There three feet in front of me was “The Land with the Parasol” by Claude Monet. Now mind you, I am not the biggest fan of impressionist painting. I broke out into tears and started sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of the gallery.
    By the time my husband got to me I was a mess. I could not even understand it to explain it to him at the time.
    Once I settled down and I began to really look at the painting,to really see it and I began to appreciate it. Finally the recoded audio guide was caught up and was talking about the painting, I listened to its story, it was all so clear. I, for the first time “felt” a paint. I felt the “emotional engineering” that Monet had painstakingly laid years before and yet his message had transcended time and was received. Bravo Claude, Bravo!

    • Amy, you were testing my art history muscles there! I had to go look up the painting (woo-hoo for the ‘net, huh?) Lovely painting and I can only imagine the impact in real life as you described.

      I feel that way too when I go visit historical monuments. The Vietnam Vet’s Wall memorial in DC had me sobbing like a baby. So simply designed and oh so very impactful. Sites like the pyramids in Cancun were also highly emotionally charged, but in a different way. The history was so ancient there I felt the weight of it. Budapest was astounding, I felt the history at every turn. Prague spoke to me with tons of stories from the past, and Vienna was…oh boy, classical awesomesauce.

      So many hands crafting stunning statuary, monuments, and works of art down through the ages. When we take the time to think that real people with real lives created each and every one of those pieces, that makes the experience all the more meaningful. Everything from the cave paintings to Michelangelo’s Pieta, to today’s films was someone’s story.

  3. The first time I went on a field trip, perhaps in junior high school in the 1970s, from rural Maine to the mighty Boston Museum of Art, and saw… I don’t remember now, but that it was a huge Monet…I burst into tears. I’d forgotten that! Thank you for helping me remember my visceral need for arts. And Deb, your writing is gripping and your emotional attachment to the arts comes through loud and clear. I am happy to know there are still insistent voices for the arts. Kudos! Angela

    • Mr. Monet is reducing everyone to tears today! The BMA is beautiful. I had the opportunity to visit once years ago for an Egyptian art show. I’m happy to have helped you remember. Stuff like this is easy to forget as we whiz through out busy daily lives.

  4. Emotional Engineering IS a great term. I have coining envy too! It is such an amazing art in itself even as it supports Art. Movies, plays and books grip me most because I can get deeply into them over time. They create an environment that surrounds and draws me to another place.

    • Coining envy! That’s a good one too! If a writer/artist is doing their job right, yes, you will find yourself cocooned inside a whole other world. I know I’ve experienced a good book or show when I feel like I’ve just woken up from a powerful dream at the end of it. There’s that sleepy, satisfied warmth that has “wow” written all over it.

  5. Hi Deb, I love your article! The term ’emotional engineering’ is so powerful and your description of your experience when it it is done well. I feel even more motivated to do it well in my coaching with clients and to be more aware of how I am doing it in writing and blogs. I am also very emotionally engaged and have full experiences with songs and reading cards in the Hallmark store!
    Thanks for posting the link for the TED talk as well, appreciate seeing the context and genius behind all of this.

    • That TED talk was great, wasn’t it? Fascinating how other people come up with ideas and solutions. Coaching and blogging is no different. Creative solutions are a must, so is relatability. The moment you find that common ground with your audience or clients is when the real magic starts happening.

  6. OMG . . . I saw this at the Pantages a couple of weeks ago during a sparse week run. I’ve been waiting to see it for years. And haven’t stopped talking about it since. Since I am an actor and acting coach, you might think that I’m jaded toward the whole process of live theatre. I think it makes me even more the little kid. I fenagled a seat in the third row!
    Yes, I saw the movie. And it was “Lassie Come Home” with horses. When that big, beautiful horse died in the movie it affected me more than in the stage play. I’m a horse lover since I was born. But the impact these puppets have is nothing short of amazing! When I sang in Japan in the ’70’s, I must have gone to the Bunraku twice a month. That’s the hundreds-of-years-old Japanese puppet theatre. You forget about the people guiding the puppets and descend instead into the magic of the story. That’s what happened to me at ” War Horse”.
    My friend, UCLA professor Gary Gardner, died recently. He said something like live theatre not only suspends the disbelief but evokes the soul. He certainly was right!

    • That’s a lovely quote, Jill, thanks for sharing that. And so good to see you here! As professionals in the arts, it’ll be a sad, sad day when we get jaded by the processes in our respective fields. Keep feeling that feeling.

      My Mom (an usher at the Smith Center) said people were actually walking out of the show because they couldn’t take the idea of puppet horses being killed on stage. That’s how deep the emotion goes. Third row must have been fantastic!

      I’ve heard of Bunraku and lucky you for having seen it. That and seeing a live Kabuki performance have been on my bucket list for a long time now.

  7. Deb I cry every time I watch Long Island Medium LOL! I love the term Emotional Engineering, that is so empowering. And the way you illustrate here is so vivid. I’m going to keep that term in mind when creating experiences and programs for my clients. Thanks for the share!

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