One of the techniques I use in my Intro to Theatre Arts class is one that I’ve drawn from several different sources. It’s the idea of using an action verb to help describe what a person is supposed to do in a scene.
First, I will tell the actors to think of an action verb that epitomizes a character’s action in a particular scene. Invariably, the first word which comes out of the actor’s mouth is not a verb. It’s usually an adjective. “Happy” they will say. I’ll reply that it isn’t an action verb.
Adjectives usually come first because people usually think descriptively, not actively. They will say angry, sad, upset, etc… and while those words might adequately describe the tone of the scene they do not guide the actor in what they should DO. And acting is DOING. Act, action, actor. I think we see the A-C-T connection.
Usually my young actors will say, “Oh yeah, that’s not a verb.” Then I force them to choose a verb.
Next step, go to a thesaurus and look at all the synonyms for that word. Is there one that is more precious, that better colors the scene or the action that one wants to accomplish?
Lastly, try it out. Do the scene with that action verb in your mind. If the word was “deflect,” they have to add the actions, expressions (verbally and non-verbally) which represent “deflect.” This forces them to chose a direction. They may find that they’ve found the perfect verb, or they may find they need to go back to the thesaurus and try something else.
This is a great little technique to give the actors some direction and make them think through their actions in a more precise and detailed manner.
Give it a try and let me know if it works.