Creating Character and Performance
“Actors are responsible to the people we play. I don’t label or
judge. I just play them as honestly and expressively and creatively
as I can, in the hope that people who ordinarily turn their heads in
disgust instead think, ‘What I thought I’d feel about that guy, I
don’t totally feel right now.’”
– Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor
“Acting is simply my way of investigating human nature and
having fun at the same time.”
– Meryl Streep, actor
simple, funny, and true acting advice:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…
–As You Like It II.vii
“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it
to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth
it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand thus, but use all gently,
for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may
say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and
beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.
Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings,
who for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumb-shows and noise. I would have
such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It
out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it.”
Actor as Shaman
Shamanism is a way of accessing spiritual guidance that
dates back tens of thousands of years and pre-dates any
known religion. What is so remarkable about the practices
of shamanism is that indigenous communities across the
globe engaged in rituals and ceremonies which bore
incredible similarity. The figure of the Shaman and
shamanic rituals and ceremonies took place without (as
far as we know in our age of modern communication) any
knowledge of this simultaneous occurrence. A Shaman is
a man or woman who enters an altered state of
consciousness and travels (journeys) outside time and
space into non-ordinary reality – a kind of parallel
universe. In this altered state the Shaman works in the
– Simon Floodgate
The greatest playwright and theorist of the Japanese Noh theatre. He and his father,
Kan’ami (1333–84), were the creators of the Noh drama in its present form.
In his treatises—of which the most important is “The Transmission of the
Flower of Acting Style,” “flower” representing the freshness and
appropriateness of fine acting—written as manuals for his pupils,
Zeami said the actor must master three basic roles: the warrior, the
woman, and the old person, including the singing and dancing
appropriate to each. The two main elements in Noh acting were
monomane, “an imitation of things,” or the representational aspect, and
yūgen, the symbolic aspect and spiritual core of the Noh, which took
precedence and which became the touchstone of excellence in the
Noh. In this critical work Zeami stressed the importance of yugen as
the most fundamental element of Noh. Yūgen, which means elegance
or grace, also means a special quality more real than apparent which
transforms something common into art. Zeami wrote, “The essence of
yūgen is true beauty and gentleness,” but not mere outward beauty: it
had to suggest behind the text of the plays and the noble gestures of
the actors a world impossible to define yet ultimately real.
Noh Theatre Performance
Classical Japanese acting style.
This mythic figure of Classical Greek drama
is credited with the invention of acting in
the Western World. Yet, some question his
existence and believe he may have been
invented by poets.
Thespis stepped out of the Chorus and spoke back to it while pretending to
play someone else than himself. His name is still used to describe the
profession: Theatre actors are often referred to as Thespians.
An actor is always training.
Being a performer in the theatre is a practice. It is
a life-long process of constant development and
Focus and awareness
Engaging with the imagination
Observation of surroundings and others
Ability to analyze and synthesize information
Vocal technique in pitch, volume and resonance
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
There are many approaches to the craft of acting.
of these methods can be considered either the outsidein approach, based in physicality (the actions and
reactions of the body), or the inside-out approach,
based in psychology (the experience of the human
Many accepted methods for training actors take one, the
other, or both approaches. First, we will examine some
physically driven approaches:
Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940)
Meyerhold, a Russian actor,
director and theorist, developed
a training technique he called
Biomechanics. He based his
kinesthetic method on motion in
order to create a heightened
theatricality and emphasize the
visual and nonverbal aspects of
Tadashi Suzuki (b. 1939)
Suzuki’s training embodies the
stamina and concentration of
traditional Japanese theatre.
This rigorous training is designed
to temper and shape the body so
the actor can bring to the stage a
“brilliant liveliness” that takes into
account the “tiniest details of
See actors engaging with his training technique here
The inside-out approach:
In the realm of
one name stands out
as the pioneer of
modern acting theory.
“The theatre infects the
audience with its noble
“In the language of an actor, to
know is synonymous with to
Creating a Role
Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938)
“An actor lives, weeps,
laughs on the stage, but as
he weeps and laughs he
observes his own tears
and mirth. It is this double
existence, this balance
between life and acting
that makes for art.”
A Russian theatre
trained actors at his
Moscow Art Theatre. His
discipline was based in
Realism and focused on
self-analysis and the inner
emotional life of the actorcharacter connection.
Stanislavski’s “system” was
brought to the United States
where it evolved into what is
known as Method Acting.
Famous teachers including
Richard Boleslawski, Lee
Strasberg, and Stella Adler were
responsible for developing his
teachings into what is now the
most widely practiced process in
theatre, film and television today.
Method Acting Techniques
●the Magic if
Actors use this technique to evoke
appropriate reactions within a scene.
Sense memory is practiced by recalling a
rehearsed or lived sensory experience of
taste, smell, touch, sight or sound and
recreating it in a performance.
The ability to understand and
experience the feelings of others.
If I were this character in this situation,
how would I react. Imagination
The Magic if
The method of understanding elements in the life of one’s
character by comparing them to elements in one’s own
life. For example, if an actor is portraying a character
who is being blackmailed, he or she could think back to
some embarrassing or private fact about his or her own
life, and mentally superimpose that onto the character’s
secret. This is associated with the realism-driven
Creating a Character
Their particular situation
Their specific problems and limitations
Their belief system
Their hopes and expectations
How they view themselves and are perceived by other characters
❧ Everything that you need is in the script, and the rest is imagined by
the actor; invented, and based upon the given circumstances
Uta Hagen (1919-2004)
The Six Steps
Hagen, a German American performer, was also a master acting teacher.
In her book A Challenge for the Actor, she printed a list of six
questions, known as “the six steps,” that she asked herself when
beginning the character development process.
Uta Hagen teaching an acting workshop
Six Steps for Building a Character
1. WHO AM I?
● What is my present state of being? How do I perceive myself? What
am I wearing?
2. WHAT ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES?
● What time is it? (The year, the season, the day? At what time does
my selected life begin?)
● Where am I? (In what city, neighborhood, building, and room do I find
myself? Or in what landscape?)
● What surrounds me? (The immediate landscape? The weather?
The condition of the place and the nature of the objects in it?)
● What are the immediate circumstances? (What has just happened,
is happening? What do I expect or plan to happen next and later on?)
Six Steps for Building a Character
3. WHAT ARE MY RELATIONSHIPS?
● How do I stand in relationship to the circumstances, the place, the objects,
and the other people related to my circumstances?
4. WHAT DO I WANT?
● What is my main objective? My immediate need or objective?
5. WHAT IS MY OBSTACLE?
● What is in the way of what I want? How do I overcome it?
6. WHAT DO I DO TO GET WHAT I WANT?
● How can I achieve my objective? What’s my behavior? What are my
What are the immediate circumstances?
(What has just happened, is happening?)
In Hagen’s second step, an actor asks about what has just
happened. When playing a scene, it is essential to know
exactly what occurred immediately before the scene
began. This is the called the Antecedent Action.
If my character were to knock on the door and come into an
apartment to a dinner party, what happened right
beforehand would influence the attitudes and behaviors
exhibited in the scene?
If it is raining outside and I just fell in a puddle and got
water in my shoes,
–that would be different from–
If it’s a beautiful summer day and I just learned from a cell
phone call from my brother that I won the lottery.
● What is this character’s main driving force?
● What does he or she want?
● What is the most important thing to this
The Super objective gives a character
something to work for (MOTIVATION) and
Thinking in positives
Keep your super objective worded in the positive so that it
gives you something to DO. The super objective “to not
take over the world” is confusing, but the super objective “to
create peace” gives an actor a great deal to struggle with and
Present objectives are immediate goals for each scene. They must
always serve the super objective.
For instance: if I decide my character’s super objective is “to create peace,”
and he has a courtroom confession scene where he lies on the witness stand,
my present objective for that scene could be “to hide the truth.”
In another scene my character could push her husband out of a window with
the present objective “to destroy my enemy,” and though that doesn’t seem
very peaceful, my character could still be “hiding the truth” and then “destroying
the enemy” in order “to create peace.”
The clues for determining these objectives are in the script.
There are many shifts in subject, tempo, action and
objectives in a scene. Stanislavski called these units
of action “bits,” but the term was eventually
mistranslated from Russian to English as “beats.”
Stanislavski famously explained beats using a turkey
Read Stanislavski’s description of Units and Objectives
from his seminal book, An Actor Prepares
Informed, active choices that serve the objectives:
What does the character DO to achieve his or her
Verbs accented by Adverbs
Aristotle called characters “agents of action.” Humans in action are wildly
fascinating. Tactics work to give the actor something to do. They are
When scoring a script, a different tactic should be employed for each beat,
or unit of action.
Define Tactics with active verbs. ‘I tempt you.’ ‘You taunt me.’ In order to
perform an action truthfully (and convincingly) an actor needs to find
exactly the right action to suit that particular situation and that particular
Verbs accented by adverbs
& many more
& many more
Often, what we say out loud is not what we are
thinking, feeling, or wishing. Subtext is the
truth behind the text. By tracking the subtext
for a character, an actor can bring the inner life
to the performance and more fully and truthfully
portray each moment.
Raising the Stakes
As you make your character/performer
choices it’s important to remember what
makes the play exciting and how your
character fits into the story.
Remember, characters in plays are
“dramatic” and they make bold, distinctive
Actors need to do the same.
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