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9.1: Understanding the Actor’s Process

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    One breath = One thought

    I was in graduate school when my mentor Carol McVey pointed this out to me. I was floored by the concept and it helped me both as an actor and director immensely. Have the actors go through the script and make a / mark every time they see a period, exclamation point, or question mark. Many times an actor will take a breath in the middle of a sentence where a comma would typically be found and when they do this the thought is broken up and often sounds unnatural. Have the actors take a breath only when the thought has been completed. When you have a new thought you are inspired and that inspiration brings with it a new breath. Once your actors have identified the breaths they need to take, ask them what point is their character trying to make in that sentence or thought? Once the point of the thought has been identified, reinforce that they need to make that point. If you are thinking the thoughts and breathing the breath of your character. You are that character.

    Given Circumstances

    The Given Circumstances are the Who, What, When, and Where of the imaginary world of the play. All of the characters need to be living in the same world with the same rules. If you go over this publicly during script work you can ensure the actors and creative team will all be on the same page and understand the world you are creating.


    • Who am I?
    • Name, occupation, family, income, etc.
    • Who am I talking to?
    • Name, occupation, family, income, etc.


    • What am I doing?
    • In the scene
    • In the room
    • What is my relationship?
    • To everyone I mention or interact with in the play.


    • Time the play takes place
    • Era, Century, Decade, Year, Season, Month, Week, Day, Hour.
    • Where

    • Location of the play and scene
    • Universe, Galaxy, Planet, Continent, Country, State/Province, Region, City, Neighborhood, Street, House, Room.


    The objective is the motivation of the character. In order to connect with the character the actor must discover the Super Objective of the character. The Super Objective is the most primal need of the character. The actor must have a deep understanding and share this objective to truly connect with the character. This will determine the ‘Why” of everything the character does or says within the play.

    Super Objective

    • What does my character need to survive for the entire play? The most important thing to your character.

    Scene Objective

    • What does your character need in the scene? Must be tied to the Super Objective.


    Action is what the character does to get what they want. Action is all we see. Ask the actor what does you character want to get or get someone to do in this scene? The Through Line of Action is what the character needs to do in order to obtain and retain the Super Objective.

    Through Line of Action

    • In one sentence how does my character get what he/she wants throughout the entire play? (If I want power how do I get power? I become King)

    Scene Action

    • What do I want the other characters in the scene?
    • What do I need to get in order to leave the scene?


    Tactics are the strategies we use as human beings in order to manipulate people to do what we want them to do. Each person has a dominant tactics or ‘go to’ strategies that work for them most often in situations. If human beings have this trait so should characters. Have your actors identify 3-5 dominant tactics they feel the character uses to get what he/she wants.

    Dominant Tactics

    • Strongest way I get the other character to do what I want them to.
    • Next strongest way I get the other character to do what I want them to.
    • Weakest way I get the other character to do what I want them to.

    Additional Questions for Character Development

    The following questions can be useful in helping your actor's craft their characters and performances. The idea is to get the actor thinking about the character as a fully developed human being with positive and negative traits.

    • What is your character’s most treasured possession? (This must be in the play)
    • What is your character’s favorite feature?
    • What type of music does your character listen to?
    • What type of clothes does your character wear?
    • What is your character’s favorite time of day and season?
    • What are your character’s prejudices?
    • Is your character happy with his/her life?
    • What does your character despise?
    • What is your character afraid of losing?
    • How does your character feel about him/her?
    • What does your character say about other people?
    • What do other people say about your character?
    • What is your character’s biggest secret that it does not want the other characters in the play to know?

    Working Monologues

    There will be times in every show where you will need to refine and coach monologues. Each monologue is an emotional or intellectual journey for the character. They should be a different person at the end of the monologue than they were at the beginning. Always begin by asking the actor why the character is sharing this information at that moment? What is the character hoping to achieve by sharing this information? Once this is established the emotional journey of the speech should become clear. However, there are two additional items to be aware of when coaching monologues.

    Operative Words

    • Operative words are the words within a phrase or sentence that most communicate the thought or intention.
    • One of my colleagues call this ‘caveman talk.’ In other words, if a cave man were to simplify the sentence in order to communicate the information, what words would be used? The should be only about 3 per thought. Once you find those words make sure they are emphasized.

    Make your points

    • Each thought or sentence in a monologue springboards into the following thought and the most important thoughts are at the end of the monologue.
    • Build to your main point. Hit your operative words, make your points, and make sure you are building to your main point at the end of the monologue.

    9.1: Understanding the Actor’s Process is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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