Actors: a simple way to breakdown a text.

Acting is like driving a standard car.

Photo by Andrew Neil Pexels

Whether learning a monologue, a scene, or a whole play, the process is always exactly the same for breaking down a script. Ultimately, you are looking to approach a script like you would a map. You are looking for all the clues the writer has given you in the text to find out who this character is.

Quite simply, you need to zone in on the words that your character uses. I usually extract just the lines of the character I am studying. I literally take all the lines of that one character and put them in order in front of me, so I only have their lines. I have their thought process and whole journey directly in front of me.

The second thing I do is the most important. Just like a standard car, I go through all of my text and mark out the “gear” shifts. These shifts can be broken down by punctuation (a period is the end of a thought), change of subject in the conversation (I want more money; hey, did you hear about the fed’s interest rate cut?) , change of emotional disposition (I really don’t give a damn about what you think. Who the hell do you think you are!?), and moments of distraction (ex. “I am going to the ball game with Mike and — what was that?). These are all examples of gear shifts that I mark as changes of thought. It marks out the map for me, so I know when I need to change the tone or colour of the phrasing in the character’s thought process.

How do you find this tone or colour? You must figure out what the trampoline for these gear shifts is. What is the moment before these gear shifts? Or, to put it another way, the thought’s catalyst.

Investigating all the words your character uses can be a huge help here. You begin to notice patterns: words they repeat, the type of language and argument they use, short words versus long words, the sound of the words, short sentences versus long sentences, and so on. It is here that the character starts to reveal themselves to the actor.

In conclusion, you are doing two things here: ensuring the “acting” is fully nuanced in tone that is honest based on the actual thought and mining the text in such detail that no part of the character will be missed by the actor.

After this work is done, the rehearsal begins to make it all a part of you. It should become so embedded and entrenched that you become the character immediately.

Your technique becomes invisible and your acting becomes sublime.

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Lee Samuel Wilson

Lee Samuel Wilson

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Lee holds Canadian, British & Irish citizenship. He is an actor, director, dramaturg, professor, and artistic director.