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some rehearsal techniques

Here are some rehearsal techniques that I use in scene study class at the Andrew Wood Acting Studio:


I teach this on the first night of class, and it’s good to do at the outset of a rehearsal process. Two partners sit opposite each other. The rule is: no one speaks without eye contact. What this means, effectively, is that when it’s your line, you need to look down at your script, memorize a short bit of text, resist the urge to start speaking while looking at the page, look up and make eye contact with your partner, find the impulse to speak in the eye contact with the partner, resist the urge to look down to get more text while you’re still speaking, STOP speaking, look down to get more text, etc until you have completed your line and it’s your partner’s turn to speak. If you embrace the rigor of this, you can learn a lot about the scene, and you will start to feel a connection with the partner through the eye contact. However, the reading will proceed at a slow tempo, nothing close to a performance tempo, and this is normal. Also, to be clear, this is a rehearsal technique. It is not the intention that this leads to a performance in which you maintain eye contact all the time. It’s just an exploration.

Throwing the ball

For this, you’ll need something to throw. A playground ball or a dodge ball is ideal, but you can also use a cushion or you can knot up a (zipperless )sweater and use it as a ball. You’ll also need to know the lines in the scene. In this exercise, you speak a sentence of text and throw the ball to your partner on the last word of the sentence. Not after the last word has been spoken, not on some operative word in the middle of the sentence, but on the last word. If your speech is more than one sentence, then your partner throws the ball back to you without saying anything, and speak your next sentence and throw the ball again on the last word. Then when it’s your partner’s turn to speak, she does the same thing: speaks a sentence (only one!) and throws the ball on the last word of the sentence, and so on. This exercise is great for practicing targeting and impacting the partner with your words, and also being targeted and being impacted by your partner’s words. It’s great to do at the start of a rehearsal, to warm up and re-establish the connection with the partner.

Repeating the last line as a question

In this exercise, before you say your line, you repeat the last sentence of your partner’s line back to him as a question, changing “you” to “I” and vice versa. Suppose you had the following dialogue in a scene:

A: I want you to stop that.
B: Why should I?
A: Because I said so.
B: That’s not a reason
A: It’s reason enough.
B: I don’t think so.

Doing the exercise, it would look like this:

A: I want you to stop that.
B: You want me to stop that? Why should I?
A: Why should you? Because I said so.
B: Because you said so? That’s not a reason.
A: That’s not a reason? It’s reason enough.
B: It’s reason enough? I don’t think so.
A: You don’t think so? …

The great thing about this exercise is that it forces you to really listen to what your partner is saying, since you have to repeat it back to her. Listening is the essence of acting. Doing this exercise helps to cultivate the habit of listening.

rehearsal techniques

Inner monologue

In this exercise, you use the inner monologue technique described in a previous post. Before each sentence that you say, you say aloud three to five stimuli that you are encountering in the moment, and then you say the sentence. Your partner does the same. Then you can reverse it: you say aloud three to five stimuli after each sentence that your partner says, and you partner voices stimuli after each sentence that you say.

Improvising the Dream Come True and Nightmare

Suppose we have two characters in a scene, Character A and Character B. They are played by Actor A and Actor B, respectively. In this exercise, Actor A and B switch roles, so that Actor A is playing Character B, and Actor B is playing Character A. Actors A and B proceed to improvise Character A’s Dream Come True, that is, the best way that the situation of the scene could turn out for Character A. What is great about this is that it gives Actor A control of Character B, so that Actor A has to get really specific about what he most wants Character B to do. Then Actors A and B improvise Character A’s Nightmare, that is, the worst possible way the situation of the scene could turn out for Character A. This forces Actor A to get really specific about what he most fears Character B will do. Then both actors do the same for Character B’s Dream Come True, and Character B’s Nightmare. This is a great exercise for exploring the stakes of the scene in an experiential way.


For this exercise, you need to have found an underlying objective. Let’s suppose your underlying objective for your scene is respect. You want to win your partner’s respect. Then you play the scene, and after every sentence that your partner says, you say alound either “Getting respect”, if in that moment you are getting respect from your partner, or “Not getting respect”, if in that moment you are not getting respect from your partner. The idea is that every time your partner does something, she is either giving you what you need or not giving you what you need, and you need to make that evaluation in the moment each time your partner says something. You can also do it after each sentence that you say. ‘

These are some of the techniques we use in class at Andrew Wood. Enjoy!

some rehearsal techniques2024-02-25T22:21:20-08:00

What Are You Listening FOR?

In the excellent new book Listening and Talking A Pathway to Acting by Evan Yionoulis, the chair of the acting program at Juilliard, Evan explores at length the concept of the underlying objective. I also teach this concept in my acting classes at Andrew Wood Acting Studio. It’s a sophisticated way of understanding the character’s motivation, and it’s quite challenging for students to learn.

She defines it as follows:

a longing for something the character can’t survive without because it proceeds from a deep void or gaping hollow in their lives. We call the quest to fulfill this need the character’s underlying objective.

In contrast to the underlying objective, she defines plot objectives:

Plot objectives are so called because they are connected to and may have fulfillment in the plot or sequence of events of the play.

I like to say that plot objectives can be thought of as plans that the character has to get the underlying objective met.

Understanding the relationship between the underlying objective and plot objectives is a significant undertaking, and I recommend reading the full chapter in Evan’s book to begin to understand this. But I wanted to call attention to two things from her discussion. First, the title of this post, which is also the title of the chapter on objectives from Evan’s book: “What will you listen FOR?” It’s a commonplace that acting involves listening, but one of the reasons that learning to work with the underlying objective is worthwhile is the way in which having an underlying objective sharpens the actor’s understanding of what she is listening for in a scene. If I know that I am listening for security from my partner, that will sharpen my apprehension what he is sending my way. I won’t just be listening to him, I will be listening FOR a particular kind of energy from him, an energy that gives me a sense of security.

What Are You Listening FOR

And this brings us to the justification for the underlying objective apparatus that Evan gives us. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to just pursue plot objectives and call it a day? Plot objectives are much easier to identify than the underlying objective. What makes learning to operate with an underlying objective worthwhile:

Many actors—and teachers of acting—speak of objectives solely in terms of plot. While plot objectives inarguably give the actor something to pursue that is concrete and doable—that’s why they’re helpful and necessary—without an
underlying purpose, the actor isn’t compelled to engage in the deeper listening that makes the character human.

An underlying objective compels us to engage in the deeper listening that makes the character human. That makes it sound worthwhile, no? But to be honest, I think she undersells it a little. An actor who has embodied an underlying need compels our attention through their vulnerability, in fact, through their visceral vulnerability. When an actor has embodied an underlying need, we understand in some mysterious way, at the level of our nervous system, that they are undertaking something worth watching.

Keep in mind that it’s a long road from being able to identify an underlying objective to being able to embody one, but as a wise man once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

What Are You Listening FOR?2024-02-20T03:16:12-08:00
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