The ACTOR’S TOOLS
Mary Ann Fletcher
GOALS FOR A BELIEVABLE PERFORMANCE
• STAY VISIBLE TO THE AUDIENCE.
Stay open, in one quarter or full front when possible.
Turn toward the audience when moving on stage.
Gesture with the upstage hand.
When two actors cross the stage together, the downstage actor
should trail slightly behind.
• ENGAGE YOURSELF FULLY IN THE SCENE.
Concentrate fully on the scene situation.
Focus completely on your character’s thoughts and feeling so
that you cannot be distracted.
• INVEST ALL OF YOUR ENERGY IN YOUR PERFORMANCE.
Express vitality and excitement to your audience.
Expand gestures and facial expressions so they carry to the last
row of the house.
• EXPLOIT THE SITUATION.
Use your imagination and creativity to explore possibilities for
your performance and select the best ones to include in
Rehearse to give your audience the best performance you can.
1. The objective –The objective is the want or need that propels the character toward
action. It is the life need that accounts for everything the character says and does in the
course of the play. What does the character want?
2. The obstacle – What stands in the way of the character getting what he/she wants?
3. Subtext – What is the character’s actual intention or meaning which may underlie a
4. Beat – The smallest unit of action into which the scene can be broken. A beat ends when
a new piece of information is introduced, an event over which a character has no control is
introduced or a new action begins.
5. Given circumstances – What has happened up to this point to your character? What
specifically has your character done up to this point? What secrets does your character
have now? What occurred just before the scene begins?
6. The magic “if” – Given that you are the character, what would you do if you were in this
situation? The concept of “situation” is crucial. Make sure you are considering all of the
circumstances in the text. The actor must operate as if the sets and props were real and
he/she is truly in that situation, then what if…? What would I have to do in order to do
what the character does in these circumstances?
7. Physical action – Find a physical action that enables your character to accomplish his/her
“Generality is the enemy of art.” Konstantin Stanislavsky
CHARACTERIZATION: Making Choices
“…You do not need [a] book to teach you to act; you already know. What your teacher and I
do is assist in reawakening the actor in you, while supplying a set of physical, intellectual, and
spiritual techniques which will enable that natural actor to give a powerful and reliable
– Robert Benedetti
The Actor at Work, 3rd Edition
1. Characters grow out of action within the text. Characterization is a means to an end, not
an end in itself.
2. Actors make choices in creating a character. Making choices is the actor’s way of seeing
his world through the character’s relationships with other characters and philosophical
beliefs. Choice is an active way for the actor to enter the character. Factors that influence
an actor’s choices are:
1. Needs and desires
2. Social background
3. Ethical values
5. The way a character thinks, Mental traits
1. Relationships with or attitudes toward other characters
2. Social environment
3. Physical environment
4. Specific, immediate circumstances
C. Theatrical concerns requiring adjustment of choice
1. Style/genre of the play
2. Character’s dramatic purpose in the play
3. Visual and auditory demands of the stage
LEVELS OF CHARACTERIZATION
A. PHYSICAL – The most simplistic level
5. Other external traits
1. Economic status
4. Family relationships
5. Environmental factors
C. PSYCHOLOGICAL -- Most important level as drama arises from conflicts in desires and
1. Habitual responses
5. Likes / dislikes
6. Emotional and intellectual workings of the mind
D. MORAL – Most difficult level to add
1. Moral choices allow the character to examine his/her own morals based on his/her motives or values.
2. Involves such traits as hypocrisy, honesty, selfishness, integrity, greed.
3. Used more in serious plays and tragedies.
4. Moral aspects ignored and decisions based on expediency in comedy.
5. Moral choices allow completeness, a final spiritual, emotional and intellectual bridge that may not be
seen on the other levels.
6. Not all scripts will emphasize / highlight moral aspects of the characters.
Use the information from the script and your imagination to answer the following questions so
that you can develop a background and personality for your character. Answer the questions
as if you yourself were really the character.
1. Who are you? What is your name?
2. What is your ethnic background?
3. How would you describe yourself physically? Include your height, weight, facial
features, hair color, and skin tone. Also be sure to note any outstanding physical
trait or condition that makes you unique.
4. How would you describe your stance, posture, walk, and movement?
5. What rhythm or tempo do you associate with yourself? Think of a piece of music
that would describe you. Would the tempo be a waltz, a cha-cha, a march, square
dance, swing, or contemporary jazz?
6. What gestures, mannerisms, or habits do you use unconsciously?
7. How do you dress?
8. How do you sound? Describe your voice quality. Is it high or low, nasal or guttural?
Do you speak with a drawl, twang, accent or dialect? Do you make any unusual
sounds, such as wheezing or grunting?
9. Think about your background. Where did you grow up? What type of environment
shaped your early life? What kind or relationship do you have with your family?
10. Where do you live now? What is your present family status?
11. Think about your intellect. How would you describe your mental capabilities?
12. What is your position in society? Are you rich, poor, important or powerful?
13. What is your job or occupation?
14. What are your attitudes toward life and people? What are your values and beliefs?
15. What is your emotional state?
16. How do you treat other people? How do others treat you?
17. Do you have a secret that you try to hide?
18. What is your greatest want or need?
19. What is the problem or obstacle standing in the way of fulfilling your want or need?
20. To what extent are you willing to go to eliminate the obstacles to getting what you
want or need?
21. What do you enjoy or do for fun?
22. What are you thinking at this very moment?
23. What do other people say about you?
24. What phrase or expression do you use frequently?
25. What is one thing you wish other people understood about you?
26. What is your greatest fear?
27. What about yourself are you most proud?
28. Who do you admire most?
THE GENERIC DIALOGUE SCENE
Introduction that includes: Title, stars, and either characters, setting or situation.
Use of basic dialogue without additions or subtractions. There are two sets of dialogue below.
Only underlined words may be changed.
Meaning and characterization – (supplied by the actors)
A: Nice day isn’t it.
B: Yes, it is.
A: Trees are sure pretty this time of year.
B: Especially in the park.
A: Do you come to the park often?
B: Oh, every now and then.
A: Care for a piece of gum?
B: Yes, thanks.
A: It has sugar in it.
B: Oh. . . no.
A: Oh, well, sure is a nice day.
B: Yes it is.
A: I think I’ll start now
A: Why not?
B: Look around.
B: Well, I think it’s obvious.
A: Not to me.
B: What time is it?
A: Does it matter?
B: Of course.
A: It’s 12:30.
A: I’ll wait.
B: Do you want to stay here?
A: I guess so.
B: Good decision.
Suggested character duos
2 spies Mad scientist and monster 2 old people
superhero and sidekick employee and boss Tarzan and Cheetah
teacher and student old lady and purse snatcher biker and librarian
romantic couple girl/boy scout and thug gunslingers
cowperson and Indian captain and pirate knight and dragon
With your partner, select a scene. Punctuate, pause, and interpret at your own discretion.
Use two words: John says “Mary”; Mary says “John”. Say them 12 times each.
A: What did you do last night?
B: I said nothing.
A: I see.
B: Do you?
A: I think so.
B: No you don’t.
C: Good morning.
D: Good morning.
C: I was wondering
C: Perhaps another time
D: Never mind
E: It’s time
E: I think so
F: I can’t believe it
F: I know. I know.
E: Just say the word
F: Are you sure?
E: No question
G: Can I see you on Monday?
H: How about Tuesday?
G: How about Wednesday?
H: How about Thursday?
G: How about Friday?
H: How about Saturday?
G: Can I see you on Sunday?
H: OK then. Sunday.