Notes to Actors

So, here’s the challenge:

How do you keep it simple, fresh, honest and urgent?

How do you make it new and meaningful without pushing?

How do you make it personal?

How do you re-dedicate yourself to the work?

How do you do it justice and become your character’s advocate?

How do you get out of your own way?

First, remember the words of that extraordinary actor, Alec Guinness: “ACTING IS HAPPY AGONY”.

Second, start from scratch and ask yourself these basic questions:

Do you have a “core” for your character? What is their point of view about the world? Do you bring this with you every moment you’re on stage? For instance, are you suspicious of everyone? Are you annoyed that you’re not recognized for your beauty, your intelligence, talent, etc? How do you express this in your interactions with others?


Do you have an objective, something you want from every person you come in contact with and in every scene you are in? Do you also have a SUPER objective, a daily motive for being -something this characters wants, needs, fights for, in life, and in a sense holds the characters hostage?

What do others say about you, what do you say about yourself, and what do you do?

What just happened (before you entered the scene, the play)? How does that affect you emotionally?

What do you want and how many different and opposite ways are you going to go after it?

Did you put it in your own words and then the words of the play?

Make it personal, and then even more personal.

◊ Up the ante.
◊ Do your “Six Minutes”.
◊ Do the “Precious Object Exercise”.
◊ Find a Private Moment that expresses your deepest fantasy – your reason for living.
◊ List who you ARE NOT.  I’m NOT Cinderella, Mother Theresa, Medea – sometimes that helps with who you ARE.
◊ Let your character write letters to all the other characters.
◊ You could always sit the character down and ask them questions about themselves.
◊ Walk in the character’s body emphasizing center of gravity, tense areas, what part you lead with, etc.
◊ Remind yourself that your character is always right and that others are wrong.

You must remember:

The enemy of fear is involvement and making it more important.

Give yourself permission to fail.

Remind yourself that you are enough.

Put all the attention on the person you are talking to and know why you are saying what you are saying.

See anew all that you are talking about, and make it even more specific and deeply personal.

If you haven’t done these suggestions, do them. If you have, dig deeper.

If you’re frustrated, bring your frustration to your work and give that to the audience. Always go out, not in.

If you are discouraged, bring that too, but always give what you have, no more, no less, to the audience.

Have courage and fight for what you want, what you need, and cannot live without. Find out what makes you passionate, fearless, proud, and committed, and then bring all that to your work.

Above all, remind yourself of why you are doing this work: the stories need to be told and retold.

It’s not about you. It’s about the story, the audience, and your fellow actors. And yet, you MUST make it personal, drawing on your truth to make the character live their truth.


QUESTIONS TO HELP ANALYZE THE NEW WORLD OF THE PLAY AND YOUR CHARACTER –  All answers need to be based on the analysis of the play

1.  What kind of behavior gets rewarded?
2.  What kind of behavior gets punished?
3.  What draws your attention?
4.  What makes you respect someone?
5.  How do you respond to attempts at seduction?
6.  What makes you feel put down?
7.  How frightened are you of physical force?
8.  What is sexy?
9.  What turns you off?
10. What frightens you?
11. How do you react when frightened?
12. Do you have a sense of humor?
13. What is fun for you?
14. Do you like to have fun?  To be seen having fun?
15. What do you like in people?
16. What makes you trust people?
17. Do you treat your fiends well?
18. Do you fear eloquence?
19. Do you admire it?
20. What is your span of verbal attention?
21. What kinds of words do you use?
22. What kinds of syntax?
23. What makes someone socially acceptable?
24. What is fashionable?
25. What would you be saying/wearing/doing to be fashionable?
26. What is old fashioned?
27. What is your apparent moral code?
28. What is your real moral code?
29. What is rude?
30. What is polite?
31. What would constitute a scandal?


12 Guideposts
Based on Michael Shurtleff’s “Audition”

Guidepost 1: Relationship
Find the love in the scene; for example the presence of love, absence of love, betrayal of love etc. Who is the other person in the scene in relation to me? Mother, daughter, son, lover, husband, etc. What’s your history with this person? Ask the question: “If you loved me you would…” What do I love about this person? What do I hate about this person? The problem in the relationship is always with other person. The “I’m Okay, You’re Screwed Up” Approach. Important to Remember: “This is a play about me in love relationship. What is the problem with my partner and what can I do/ give to my partner to solve my problem in order to get my dream today?”

Guidepost 2: Conflict
What is my dream and what can I do to my partner so that this person can make my dream come true today ? Your Fighting For is done in a variety of ways, which are called Actions. An Action is described as an undeniable communication that affects or changes your partner to get what you want. The best actions are physical, because they are undeniable. Some examples of actions: to berate, to infuriate, to surprise, to tease etc, etc. Name the action, then play the action.

Guidepost 3: The Moment Before
Your Dream, plus your Fighting For focused into a first action seeking conflict. A strong beginning. Physicalizing the first action is recommended. Do it whenever you can. Remember, you are also carrying into the scene the personalized history you have made up for yourself, which are facts or inferences you’ve made from the script.

Guidepost 4: Humor
It’s a way of coping with the absurdities or sorrows of living. It connects you with your partner, for example, to tease, to put at ease, to share a laugh with, to deflect pain. An appreciation about the irony of life.

Guidepost 5: Opposites
In life a fundamental truth about ourselves is that at some level we want something and at another level we don’t want it. Whatever is true in the scene, the opposite is also true. An opposite is an action that interferes with you getting what you are fighting for. The 3 most obvious opposites–1. Action -Screw you , I hate you. 2. Action-You’re right, I’m wrong. 3. Non-Action-I give up. You give up your dream for the moment.

Guidepost 6: Discoveries
What’s new? Discovery is the moment to moment action. What is your partner saying or not saying. Be attentive, alert, sensitive, aware of what’s happening in the scene. Listen and be affected.Talk and effect change. You must make discoveries or you’ll miss the events. If you miss the events, nothing will happen. You must make discoveries or your scene will die. Action comes right on the tail of discovery; something which you may have suspected is suddenly confirmed.

 Guidepost 7: Communication & Competition
Give and Take. Give and Receive. What are you sending and what is your partner receiving. Vice versa. You must send and receive both Emotionally and Physically. If you are alert and aware you will discover wins and losses in you communication and competition. Celebrate you wins and mourn you losses. Keep score. Count the wins and losses. Love to compete.

Guidepost 8: Importance
Raise the stakes. This is not everyday life, but a day of crisis. Today is the day I fight, where formerly I fled. A day when everything changes. It’s has to be important or the scene falls flat. Add “I” – if you don’t nobody will listen to you. You must personalize.

Guidepost 9: Find the Events
Events equal changes, especially in the relationship. You have to create the events. Be alert to what is happening. Discover it in your partner. See if your partner is aware of what’s happening between you. Otherwise, nothing will happen–the scene will be dead. Events move the story forward.

Guidepost 10: Place
Where are you? What’s around you? Are you indoors; outdoors, on your own turf, your partner’s; or neutral. What’s your emotional connection to this place? There may be a possibility of third area focus. For example, deal with the trees or flowers in the park.

 Guidepost 11: Game Playing & Role Playing
It ‘s not insincere-it’s very true to life and real. Game Playing and Role Playing is a way dealing with reality, not escaping it. For example, a teacher’s role with students in college classroom setting is different than later if they meet later at a cocktail party.

Guidepost 12: Mystery & Secret
Wonder about your partner and your situation. Have a secret – keep it a secret, but let it add drive and intensity to your scene.

Guidepost 13: Mischieviousness
Adds humor. Lightens it up. Involves you with your partner.


In the Kabuki theatre, there is a gesture which indicates ‘looking at the moon’, where the actor points into the sky with his index finger. One actor, who was very talented, performed this gesture with grace and elegance. The audience thought: “Oh, his movement is so beautiful!” They enjoyed the beauty of his performance, and the technical mastery he displayed.

Another actor made the same gesture, pointing at the moon. The audience didn’t notice whether or not he moved elegantly; they simple saw the moon. I prefer this kind of actor: the one who shows the moon to the audience. – From The Invisible Actor by Yoshi Oida

“I don’t believe in God, but I believe in Al Pacino. The other day I was watching Dog Day Afternoon again, and I see a man who is so true, so interesting and I understand more about the world from his performance. And you go, ‘C’mon, it’s only acting.’ Well, wouldn’t you say that a good book or a good painting allows you to see the world in a different way? When I see a great performance, I feel more alive.” –Javier Bardem
Preparing a character is the opposite of building–it is a demolishing, removing brick by brick everything in the actor’s muscles, ideas and inhibitions that stands between him and the part, until one day, with a great rush of air, the character invades his every pore. – Peter Brook