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The 20 Ingredients to Acting

Page history last edited by amrodrig@jeffco.k12.co.us 12 years, 8 months ago




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Relationship—Find the love in the scene; for example the presence of love, absence of love, betrayal of love etc. How do you feel about the person? Who is the other person in the scene in relation to me? Mother, daughter, son, lover, husband, etc. What’s your history with this person? Ask the question: “If you loved me you would...” What do I love about this person? What do I hate about this person? The problem in the relationship is always with other person. The “I’m Okay, You’re Screwed Up” Approach. Important to Remember: “This is a play about me in love relationship. What is the problem with my partner and what can I do/ give to my partner to solve my problem in order to get my dream today?”


Objective—what is your character fighting for? A specific goal your character is fighting for.


Tactic—The strategy used to achieve your objective. You may switch tactics when you feel they aren’t working any more.


Obstacle—Things/events/circumstances that get in the way of the character’s achieving of actions; provides conflict, which provides interest, which makes drama


Motivation—why a character behaves the way they do.


Conflict— An actor is always fighting. Even when he is wallowing in defeat, he is fighting. When thinking about what you are fighting for, think positively. Make active instead of passive choices. Every character in every scene is fighting for something. Always be aware of your relationships with others. Think about how you are affecting the other characters in the scene and how they are affecting you. Find as many ways as you can to get what you are fighting for. Battle, fight, woo, charm, excite, defy, praise, exult, disgust, condemn, resist, and whatever it takes to get what you want!!!


Look for conflict. Conflict is what makes plays interesting, not everyday occurrences.

Always be searching out conflict, not avoiding it!

            -more conflict creates drama

            -More conflict=a better performance

Competition is essential to creating conflict. A good actor competes willingly and even enjoys competing. Competition can be found in relationships of both love and friendship. It is essential to acting and life.


Two points of view which an actor MUST imbue in every scene:

1.)   I am right, you are wrong

2.)   You should change form being the way you are to be what I think you should be


Example 1: We will now demonstrate how boring something such as a game of tennis would be without any competition. Doesn’t competition add drama to life?


Example 2:

“Kindertransport” by Diane Samuels

Helga: You should change your mind and come with me.

Eva: I haven’t got a case.

Helga: You could have your things sent on.

Eva: You said it was all right to come later.

Helga: I said I would prefer you to come now. There is enough money from Onkel Klaus for a ticket.

Eva: I can’t just leave.

Helga: Why do you not want to be with your mother Eva?

Eva: Evelyn. My name is Evelyn.

Helga: Why are you so cold to me?

Eva: I don’t mean to be so cold.

Helga: We have been together a week and you are still years away.

Eva: I can’t help it.


Break down the exerpt.

What is Eva fighting for?

What is Helga fighting for?



Beat—A single unit of action. A scene may be comprised of several beats. A beat can also be referred to as the point during a scene where a new action begins. It occurs when a new piece of information is introduced or an event takes place over which the character has no control and which by its very nature must change what the actor is doing.


Substitution & Memory Recall—When faced with a role, you may have to find substitutions for moods, objectives, feelings, settings, history, locations, relationships, periods, etc., in order to feel what the character feels. More so if they or the setting, character, etc. is unlike things from your life.

You don’t need to be literal. If someone’s trying to kill your character, look to the character’s objectives, think of times you’ve been terrified of something or someone.

Intangibles like colors, textures, elements of nature, music, etc. can be stimulating too. Don’t tell others your substitutions or they’ll evaluate the source’s consequent action, rather than finding their own relationship to the action.



Emotional Recall—The recall of a past emotional event in order to recreate the emotion and its physical response — sobbing, laughter, etc.

An emotion happens to us when we lose our reasoning control — generally we don’t want this loss of control, so it can be hard to recall the emotion.

The initial tendency is to think of an event in general to bring about the emotional response. This sometimes works but it is more reliable to find a release object — an item, sound, smell, etc. that you recall from the event, which releases the censor. One way of finding one: tell a friend the story of an unhappy event from your life. Describe the surroundings, weather, sounds, etc. One of these will release the pain anew. You can build a collection of these trigger objects. Avoid examining experiences that you’ve never wanted to talk about — this isn’t psychotherapy!


Avatar Clip




Endowment Dealing with objects which cannot have total reality because they might otherwise control you; heightened reality. Endow objects with physical attributes. eg, shaving without a blade, removing wet clothing when it’s not wet, drinking water as if it’s wine. To practice, use at least three objects with physical properties that would otherwise control you. You can endow objects further by making them particular, giving them history.


Interior Monologue—The unspoken dialogue in an actor’s thoughts. Why is interior monologue useful? 3 dimensional characters. We all have interior monologue all the time; even when we are dreaming. If our goal is to create the most honest and authentic performance possible, interior monologue is a very important ingredient.


Subtext/Text—The meaning or intention behind or below the spoken words. Text is the actual text written on a page.


Moment Before—how to start a scene

1.) What is the moment before?

            A: Every scene you will ever act begins in the middle and it’s up to the actor to provide what comes before.


2.) Why do you need it?

            A: To show auditors that you’re full emotional commitment to this moment will develop the scene and in turn develop a whole performance of a play.

                        -The presence of the moment before knowledge will “warm you up” in a sense, where the lack of this may create a longer “warm-up” period that could cause loss of attention by the auditors.


                        -This “warm-up” developed reading will create a good first impression on the auditors.


3.) How do you create it?

            A: The actor may have to go back many years in the life of the character.

                        -Generalizations are only useful if they lead to emotion

-It is the analysis of specific details that creates a more focused moment before

- Like the given circumstances but you must go further to determine how those past experiences shape behavior in the present moment of action. Your Dream, plus your Fighting For focused into a first action seeking conflict.

-A strong beginning. Physicalizing the first action is recommended. Do it whenever you can. Remember, you are also carrying into the scene the personalized history you have made up for yourself, which are facts or inferences you’ve made from the script.


Humor—It’s a way of coping with the absurdities or sorrows of living. It connects you with your partner, for example, to tease, to put at ease, to share a laugh with, to deflect pain. An appreciation about the irony of life.


-not actual jokes

-not being funny

-not found in slapstick comedy

-Humor IS found in underlying situations of real life


How to spot humor in a serious situation:

            -Humor is found through reactions and the use of instinctual acting skills

                        (An actor may sometimes have to dig for the humor in a situation)


Don’t get discouraged:

            -Every situation has humor therefore every actor has it too


Humor is a necessity in dramatic works, more than comedy


Examples of humor:

            -In the movie Braveheart, before a battle the Scottish army moons the enemy from across the battlefield


Humor often relieves nervous tensions and concerns of the audience by making the scene seem more life like, because there’s humor in every life situation, there is humor in every theatrical one as well.



-Opposites bring diversity and interest to a scene

-Consistency is the death of good acting—Example: Captain Jack Sparrow replies “Yeah, but where has all the rum gone?”




-In order to find opposites an actor must look to himself


Opposites are found through relationships and attitudes that a character might have and feel.

            -Study a scene that you are going to perform and look at it in two ways, from a loving point of view and a hating point of view


What makes a scene interesting to watch?

-the relationships between characters

-the situations the characters are put in

-the way the characters react and deal with these situations

-the actor is interested in what he is doing



When a character is faced with a difficult situation he must make choices that compromise and sacrifice some of his points of view, and conflict with a love/hate attitude. An example would be a sibling rivalry.


Find opposites by looking to yourself:

-Take situations from your own life and apply them to the scene

-Take personal attitudes of yourself, that apply, and apply them to your character


If finding opposites in a scene is difficult think of a similar situation and apply attitudes from that


Discoveries—Discoveries are the things that happen for the first time. In theatre they are used to create drama which makes it important for actors to look for these discoveries so that they can add life to everyday events.


Kinds of discoveries

1.)   Discoveries about the other character: likes, dislikes, attitudes, etc…

2.)   Discoveries about oneself: emotion, motives, attitude, etc…

3.)   Discoveries about the scene: What is at stake in this scene? What makes this scene different? Etc…

4.)   There are many different possibilities for discovery. Scenes are filled with discoveries, sometimes they are harder to find than others.


Edgar: Hi honey, did you sleep well last night?

Janus: Actually Edgar, No. I was up all night waiting for you. Where were you all night?

Edgar: Well Janus, if you must know, I was at a meeting with an associate.

Janus: Oh really? And just who is this associate? A female perhaps?

Edgar: Actually yes. She’s also my lover. Her name is Gidget. She’s a nice girl; I’m sure you would like her.

Janus: Well, that’s just lovely. Now I’ll be able to sleep at night.

Edgar: Yeah. She’s great. Last night she told me she likes when I sleep in my own filth.

Janus: You know what Edgar? That’s just great. How about some coffee?


Now, take notice of the discoveries that were made and the opportunities for more discoveries to be made. Also look at the reactions of the characters to the discoveries that were made. How could this scene be improved?



Mystery/Secret—We’re forever doing what we don’t know at an audition. The most fascinating acting always has a quality of mystery to us. Make your acting more interesting by adding the quality that cannot be so easily explained.


There is more to life than what lies out before us just as there is more to a scene that what is written.  What is love? Is there a god? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll? Is there life after death? These are just a few mysteries of life.


You can never know everything about another person, just like you can never know everything about the character you are in a scene with. Think about when you are talking with a friend. You as, “So, how has your day been?”  They answer, “Well, it was okay.” But you don’t always know whether or not that person is telling the truth; and more than that, the tone of their voice, or their “Subtext” might also tell you otherwise. They could have had the worst day in the world, but they just don’t want to bother you with details. Whether they tell you or not, you will never know everything about your friend’s day. The same goes for the person you are doing the scene with, you will never know exactly what this person is all about no matter how much the script reveals to you.


But by looking at the details of the scene, you can better figure out your character and what he or she is all about.


Another aspect of this guidepost is Anticipation. You cannot expect the audience to believe you if you anticipate the future of the scene. In real life, you do not know the midget has stolen your wallet until the midget has stolen your wallet; and even then, you do not react to it until you DISCOVER that the midget has stolen your wallet. The same goes for acting, you don’t react to someone’s line until they have said it; you do not react to something happening until it has happened.


Example: The pinch, ouch! Concept. Not ouch! Pinch.


Given Circumstances







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