This is not a checklist but a guide, here so that when you are preparing for an audition or a role you don’t want to have to remember how to prep, as well as actually prep. Remember, you know the answers; you just need to know what questions to ask.
Start with what you know – the character lists. The lists are how you discover what information the play or film actually gives you about your character.
AFTER THE LISTS
Fill in the gaps of what the writer has provided with a list of specific questions about your character: the Physical facts, Social Aspects and Psychology. Answer the questions verbally if you’re time poor. You’ll be surprised how much you know about the character.
Observe life – there may be a gift – a walk, a mannerism, an attitude – out there that you can use.
Write an Emotional diary to chart the course of your character’s journey over the film/ play or episode.
Master any accent/ skills particular to the role.
Do what your character does: life, job, hobbies. How does doing those things make you feel? What research can you usefully do?
Spend time in the character’s skin with Solo Etudes.
Ask yourself: What is your character’s Status? What’s the period and how does that affect your character? What are their favourite books/ music? What character traits would an outsider see? What’s their body centre/ internal beat? What is the thing they are most ashamed of? What’s their big secret?
How is the character like you? Different from you?
Find the devil in the angel, the angel in the devil.
Learn the lines. Record/ listen or Read/ repeat. Try the Script Rehearser App. Use the Pomodoro Technique for time managing masses of dialogue. Move around to get the lines in your body: we need to learn them by heart, not by head.
KEYWORDING & GAME OF ARROWS
Doing these will make you an active listener; meaning that your reactions will best tell the story. Being an active listener means making a series of discoveries from what the other actor is saying and doing.
Actors are reactors; everything we say and do is only because the other character has forced us to respond – so everything we say should cost your character something. Measure your reactions against what it is you are trying to achieve…
INTENTION/ WANT/ OBJECTIVE
What does my character want? Why do I want it? What’s the importance of getting it? The Scene Objective is the change you want to see in the other character’s eyes by the end of the scene. Make it something concrete in your imagination; envision what the change will look like, feel like. If you don’t achieve your objective that will hurt. Discover the objective by asking yourself: ‘if my character were to rewrite the scene to suit them, what would she make the other character/s say/do?’ Try out a bunch until you hit one that feels right. Never give up on your objective, even if/ when you ‘lose’ the scene – that is, you don’t achieve your objective.
Also known as subtext or the dark matter: everything you are thinking of saying, and choose not to.
This is the thing your character wants almost as much as the OBJECTIVE, but is it’s opposite, or near opposite. Win or lose the objective, either way it will cost your character something.
If you’re stuck in the scene, play the opposite: do the scene wrong. It’ll work better.
An opposite is a form of an obstacle; others are any facts or given circumstances that make it harder for you to achieve you objective – a headache, lack of sleep, a noisy bar etc. The other character/s in the scene is always an obstacle.
Add layers and nuance by taking the idea of Opposites further and look for the contrasting pushes, pulls, flavours and desires for your character in the scene.
Start the scene warmed up by asking yourself, what is your character’s ‘moment before’? What has just happened? What’s on your mind? What has just been said? What is your need? Where have you come from? What is your ‘state of being/ emotional mood/ preoccupations/ agenda? As you prepare ask yourself: do you enter/ exit at the head/ end of the scene? It’s especially important to work this out for auditions.
RELATIONSHIP AND SUBSTITUTIONS
We act out different roles (as well as status) with different people: lover, sister, father, a dutiful daughter, a rebel son, a boss, an employee – depending on who we are with. Who is the other character in the scene to your character – a best friend, a colleague, frenemy, a mother, a daughter, a mentor, a protégé? You’ll behave differently with each of these. So substitute a real person that you know from your own life for the character opposite you.
Make associations and substitutions for everything and person mentioned in the scene – don’t leave acting blanks.
LINE & SCENE ACTIONS
What you DO (as opposed to what you SAY) reveals character. Line and scene actions earth the scene because they take the playing out of your head and into your body, because doing something changes how you feel – the root word of emotion is motion after all.
Figure out what your character is doing in the scene overall. Are they arguing, or breaking up with a loved one, or making a vow, or being chatted up? Then think about a time you did something similar (personal experience), or when you might want/ need to (imagination). This is your Scene action.
If you wish figure out what your character is doing with each and every line, every beat and pause and non-verbal action, at a clear non-interpretive level. This is your Line action.
‘Doing’ can highlight the cost of the scene for your character. Audiences love to see this: no matter how much we try to dodge it, suffering defines our humanity.
(GC’s) GC’s add layers/ depth to the work. What are the FACTS of the play/film – they may not specifically be mentioned in the scene – that affect HOW this scene is played? Where is my character? When are they (time of day/ century/ etc)? Who am I with (status/ relationship)? GC’s give depth, subtlety and surprise to your performance.
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY/ FILM (WOP)
In a musical you must embody as part of your character that you may burst in to song at any moment. If in a comedy farce, you are the sort of person that will bounce back from hurt easily. If you’re in The Sixth Sense (horror movie) you must know how living with the dead would affect you. And so on, for cop shows, for war films, for period pieces. What is this world, and how must the characters respond to survive in it?
Figure out the reasons for the beats/ shifts/ changes.
What is the change in the scene, and your characters emotional change to that? Are they thrilled at the end of the scene, or shitty? Play something (anything!) at the start of the scene that is different from the ending. Then your character has travel through the scene.
This all helps tell the story, as it highlights the event that has been written. But once you know it, forget it all and play the moment.
An activity can enhance story beats (when you stop or pause the activity) and reveal the character’s inner feeling. Most importantly they can ground a performance. Not to be overdone, but good to have in your arsenal.
DON’T PREPARE THE RESULT
Don’t rehearse delivery. It’s always a work in progress. It’s a collaboration. You don’t need to turn up with all the answers, just some possibilities, and an offer. There is no finished product, no right way to do it. Your instincts are always right.
ON THE DAY
Pull the work back to the basics: Who are you? (character); Who are they? (relationship); What are you fighting for, and what will it cost you to get it (objective)? Where are you (GC’s)? What’s the basic situation (Personalisation)? What are you doing (Scene Action)? What show are you in?
If auditioning dress appropriately; men with no make-up, women with little (unless the part clearly demands it). Don’t hide behind your hair – let us see your face. This isn’t a fancy dress party – they probably don’t want to see an SS uniform or a Nun’s habit, even if you are testing for a Storm trooper or an actual Nun. Dress in something that suggests the period/ character feel for you; it doesn’t have to be exact. Be early enough to fill in the form, visit the bathroom etc.
MAKE THE WORLD FRIENDLY
Be it a film set, rehearsal or audition room, make it familiar and friendly. Touch things, make friends with objects/ furniture.
Imagine that the camera lens is actually the director: smiling at you, watching and wondering at your performance, reveling in your every subtlety and nuance. Make the crew (or casting director) your friend – they are your audience; they love your acting and are fans of everything great in it. For recall treat the producer and director, even if just in your mental energy, as people you would love to hang with and get to know.
Place your greatest fan in the room. Someone who LOVES your acting unreservedly: your daughter, best friend, partner, Dad; whomever. Bathe in their Approving Gaze. And/ or you can…
Be professional: show the same respect for everyone, high or low. Be generous & humble: let your work speak for you. ‘Never be needlessly present or noticeably absent’ (Peter Barkworth).
JUST BEFORE THE SCENE
Make a connection with the other actor/ reader. Let go and trust you have it, remind yourself of your moment before and objective. Step out into the delicious unknown – Go!
DO WHAT PEOPLE DO
Look away, deny us your eyes, stumble on a line – or just stumble. People fail all the time.
REALLY LOOK, REALLY LISTEN
Listen to their whole body with your whole body. Let them do all the work. What part of your body feels this person? Where in your body do they impact you?
In delivery be paced. Don’t give yourself time to think: if you don’t know what you’re going to do next, neither do we.
Cecily Berry: ‘The audience can hear and think faster than you think they can.’
KEEP THE WHEELS TURNING
Endings are important. Give the editor a cutting point. If you think your character should leave, leave.
CAMERA SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES
Be aware of the size of shot. In a wide you can be more physically expressive. In a tight close up you can be more still and play the other character’s camera eye. Seeing is remembering: if a person or place is mentioned, or you think of it/ them, then see in your imagination an actual place or thing.
External landscape: if you think of or refer to an actual place, know where it is outside the frame.
BE IN THE MOMENT
What is there is really there? – any windows, doors, barking dogs next door, distractions. If you hear it or see it, so does your character.
Alfred Hitchcock: ‘Directors supervise accidents.’
THE HEAD GAME
LIVE, DON’T ACT
Living is fun; acting is work. The thing that happens by accident is usually more interesting that what you’d planned.
Be yourself. Be eccentric. Obey your fancies. Feel, even the shitty feelings. It’s all energy, and you need it. Say yes to every mistake, to every accident; never call cut on a scene but commit to everything, every little screw up.
Give yourself permission to fail. Failing is a given; not trying is self-limiting: ‘Fail. Try again. Fail better’ (Samuel Beckett)
THE LEARNING NEVER STOPS
Aim higher than what your current acting gigs may be delivering to you. Develop a routine of regular classes/ scene work, voice work – and something that helps you inhabit your body with more fluency. Make fitness and accent a daily practice. Take a vow of poverty so you can pay for workshops, travel for work opportunities, spend less time working in that low paid casual job, and have more time for your craft. When you get work, that’s when the learning really starts.
WE’RE NOT SAVING LIVES HERE
It was a hallmark of the late, great, Alan Rickman that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity. Take the work seriously, but not yourself.
PERSONALISE THIS LIST
Take stuff out, add in your other learnings, things that work for you – warm ups, head game stuff – anything that helps you. Only you know what works for you.
Break a leg!
Written by Peter Feeney, reposted with permission.