How to Act
Do you need to act for a class project or school play? Or do you have big dreams of being an actor on the silver screen? If so, you’ll need to master the basics of acting. Move over, Oscar winner Sir Michael Caine! Read on for some tips on how to take command of any stage.
Part One of Four:
Pinpointing Character Traits
Come up with a background for your character. A lot of actors might tell you to come up with a secret that only you know that drives your character. This is a completely legitimate technique and it’s worth trying. But in addition to a secret, know your character inside and out. Make them a real person, not just a name on a page.
What do they do in their free time? How do you think they react to certain circumstances? Who are their friends? What makes them happiest? What’s their inner dialogue like? What is their overall view on the world? What’s their favorite color? Food? Where do they live?
Research everything you can about the character if it’s based on a real person. If not, research the time period the character is supposedly from, where they lived, and the historical events that happened around your character.
Ask yourself why. Knowing what is driving your character will make everything fall into place. Analyze the work as a whole, but get a motivation down scene by scene, part by part. Does your character have a motivation that arches through the entire show? How about for each interaction? The answer is “yes,” so what is it?
Generally, this is in the script. If it’s not, you’re director will make that clear with their concept. Take the first scene you’re in and analyze what you want and how you will get what you want. You should end up with two things: a simple thing like “acceptance” or “reassurance” followed by “getting my friend/lover/enemy to x, x, and x.” Once you have that, emote away.
Study your lines. In order to be confident when you’re acting and to be able to concentrate on your character, you will have to know your part as well as you can. When you’re nervous, it can often be easy to forget your lines or struggle with them. To avoid being tongue-tied on stage, learn your lines so well you can practically do them in your sleep.
Read through your lines every night. When you’ve gotten the hang of it, start trying to recite the lines to yourself and see how far you can go without glancing at the script.
Practice saying the lines with a friend or family member and have them play the other characters. That way, you’ll also memorize the context of your lines and when you’re supposed to say them.
And if someone else messes up, you’ll be able to cover them!
Practice your lines the way that you want to deliver them on stage or in front of the camera. Experiment with different ways to deliver each one to find what works best and feels most authentic.
Write in your script. Though you may think of it as just a lot of time spent erasing later, writing notes in your script will help you immensely. Develop your own system of annotations that only you can understand.
Write in pauses, or beats. These can be noted with a line between words or phrases. Seeing the line through the phrase gives you a concrete reminder to slow down. Pauses are just as important as words. Remembering that is essential to an effective delivery.
Write in feelings. In one paragraph alone, you may have four different overall motivations. Maybe you start off angry, explode, and then try to rein yourself back in. Write in emotions (or whatever would serve as a reminder) above the sentence to aid you in recalling the best delivery.
Write in your reactions. That’s right, you should be making notes on others’ lines, too. After all, if you’re on stage, there’s probably at least one person in the audience looking at you, even if you’re not talking. How do you feel about what you’re being told? What are you thinking about as you’re witnessing the scene from the sidelines? When you figure this out