How to Act

Four Parts:Pinpointing Character TraitsDeveloping Movement and VoicePerformingWorking with Others

Do you need to act for a class project or school play? Or do you have big dreams of being an actor on the silver screen? If so, you’ll need to master the basics of acting. Move over, Oscar winner Sir Michael Caine! Read on for some tips on how to take command of any stage.

Part 1
Pinpointing Character Traits

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    Come up with a background for your character. A lot of actors might tell you to come up with a secret that only you know that drives your character. This is a completely legitimate technique and it's worth trying. But in addition to a secret, know your character inside and out. Make them a real person, not just a name on a page.
    • What do they do in their free time? How do you think they react to certain circumstances? Who are their friends? What makes them happiest? What's their inner dialogue like? What is their overall view on the world? What's their favorite color? Food? Where do they live?
    • Research everything you can about the character if it’s based on a real person. If not, research the time period the character is supposedly from, where they lived, and the historical events that happened around your character.
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    Ask yourself why. Knowing what is driving your character will make everything fall into place. Analyze the work as a whole, but get a motivation down scene by scene, part by part. Does your character have a motivation that arches through the entire show? How about for each interaction? The answer is "yes," so what is it?
    • Generally, this is in the script. If it's not, you're director will make that clear with their concept. Take the first scene you're in and analyze what you want and how you will get what you want. You should end up with two things: a simple thing like "acceptance" or "reassurance" followed by "getting my friend/lover/enemy to x, x, and x." Once you have that, emote away.
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    Study your lines. In order to be confident when you’re acting and to be able to concentrate on your character, you will have to know your part as well as you can.[1] When you’re nervous, it can often be easy to forget your lines or struggle with them. To avoid being tongue-tied on stage, learn your lines so well you can practically do them in your sleep.
    • Read through your lines every night. When you’ve gotten the hang of it, start trying to recite the lines to yourself and see how far you can go without glancing at the script.
    • Practice saying the lines with a friend or family member and have them play the other characters. That way, you’ll also memorize the context of your lines and when you’re supposed to say them.
      • And if someone else messes up, you'll be able to cover them!
    • Practice your lines the way that you want to deliver them on stage or in front of the camera. Experiment with different ways to deliver each one to find what works best and feels most authentic.
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    Write in your script. Though you may think of it as just a lot of time spent erasing later, writing notes in your script will help you immensely. Develop your own system of annotations that only you can understand.
    • Write in pauses, or beats. These can be noted with a line between words or phrases. Seeing the line through the phrase gives you a concrete reminder to slow down. Pauses are just as important as words. Remembering that is essential to an effective delivery.
    • Write in feelings. In one paragraph alone, you may have four different overall motivations. Maybe you start off angry, explode, and then try to rein yourself back in. Write in emotions (or whatever would serve as a reminder) above the sentence to aid you in recalling the best delivery.
    • Write in your reactions. That's right, you should be making notes on others' lines, too. After all, if you're on stage, there's probably at least one person in the audience looking at you, even if you're not talking. How do you feel about what you're being told? What are you thinking about as you're witnessing the scene from the sidelines? When you figure this out, write it down.
    • Write in volume cues. There may be a line or lines that need to be said much louder than others or key words you need to really punch. Think of your script like music by writing in crescendos, decrescendos, and accents.

Part 2
Developing Movement and Voice

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    Relax. Take a deep breath. It helps a lot of people if they tense up their entire body and keep it that way for a few seconds. Then, just relax all your muscles. "Box breathing" is also a good method. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and then breathe out for 4 seconds. The overall effect will calm you down.
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    Be aware of your body. There are entire techniques and classes dedicated to movement for performers and for good reason. They'll help you utilize your "space" to the best of your ability and take command of the stage. Acting is not just in your voice or in your face, but on all planes.
    • Feel free to give your character quirks. Does he walk with a slight limp from a war? Does she constantly play with her hair? Is he a leg twitcher? Does she pick at her fingernails? It doesn't have to be in the script! Think about how your character would act in daily living. How do you see them sitting in a waiting room? What would they be found doing?
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    Project. Talk louder than you usually would so everyone can hear you and the camera can catch the sound. There's nothing more irritating than being in the audience and catching every third word.
    • Don’t talk absurdly – just make sure that your voice carries and that you are not mumbling or talking in an indoor voice to your fellow actors.
    • If you’re in a play, you need to make sure that the people in the back of the audience can hear you, so stand up straight, project your voice and make sure you’re turning slightly towards the audience. You don’t want to be speaking to the back wall.
    • Do not speak too fast. This often garbles your words and makes it difficult to hear what you’re saying.
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    Enunciate. When you are on stage or in front of the camera, you have to say your words clearly and make sure all the sounds are well defined. This is especially important at the ends of words, which are easy to swallow and lose acoustically.
    • Make sure all your consonants are present. This should just slow you down enough to be easily understood by all.
    • Don’t overdo your enunciation, since this could come across sounding unnatural.[2] You want to make sure your voice sounds clear, but not like you’re overacting. If you are uncertain about whether or not you’re over or under-enunciating your words, ask the director and your fellow actors.
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    Talk like your character. Even if your character doesn't have an accent, there are still other aspects of their idiolect to consider that may not be in the script. Consider their age, race, social status, beliefs, and income.
    • In a review of the semi-recently revived "The Pajama Game," one writer said that the main character was great...apart from not being believable. She played a simple Midwestern girl who pronounced "either" EYE-thurr. Wrong. Dead giveaway. So close, too. Avoid being that girl and analyze your character's dialogue.

Part 3

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    Emote. This really should go without saying. Unfortunately, largely in part due to Keanu Reeves, it doesn't. As an actor, you have to portray certain emotions and make sure that the audience can see what you’re feeling, whether you’re on stage or on camera. Use your own emotions to tune into your character's -- right now, they're one in the same.[3].
    • Find an emotion within yourself that matches how your character would feel. Did her mom just die? Okay, so thankfully your mom isn't dead, but you remember how it felt when Poodle, your pet goldfish died and that sucked. You cried for days. Channel that. The audience has no idea what's your trigger, they just know that you're devastated and it probably has something to do with the plot line they're entranced it (if only they knew...).
    • Manipulate the tone of your voice. If your character is upset, you might want your voice to sound harsher and less controlled. If your character is excited or nervous, make your voice go higher.
    • Use gestures and body language to convey emotions. Don’t just stand there with your hands at your sides. If your character is angry, wave your hands and stomp your feet. If the character is sad, hunch your shoulders and hang your head. Be logical.
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    Roll with the punches. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give away that you've messed up. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever. Was that enough "evers" to get the point across? Whether it's in your voice or on your voice, don't let the audience know. If you don't let them know, guess what? They won't.
    • If you're dancing or moving, don't let your face drop. Confidence is fooling beyond belief. Stay smiling. Smile because you're the only one who knows.
    • If you've flubbed a line, run with it. The only people who have the script memorized are onstage. Cycle back to where you need to go. If the other actor(s) is/are as professional as you are, there will be no problem.
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    Get in the moment. From the moment you step onstage, you are not dealing with romantic issues, money problems, or a general fit of fatigue. All that stuff is left offstage. You are only in the moment that is creating itself before you.
    • If you're going through something during the run of a show, this needs to be an outlet. Theatre should destress you, not add to your plate. Take this moment to be someone else and check your problems (and attitude) at the door. You can pick it up in a few hours if you'd really like. Stop what you're thinking and start listening actively and being present. The audience will know if you're not.
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    Don't break character. If you forget everything else, just remember that you have to be your character and not slip up and become your normal self. Theatre kids can often be pranksters -- resist the urge to laugh at the pair of Juan's boxers sitting on the bar you now have to use as a rag and be the best barman this side of the Mississippi.
    • If there is a stage mishap or something doesn’t happen as planned, just stay in character and react the way your character would. Gunshot didn't go off? Well it's a good thing you have this knife on your upstage side that the audience can't see! Ha HA! Sound guy fell asleep again. That guy really needs to be fired.
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    Keep a positive attitude. Sometimes, worrying about messing up or other people’s reactions can ruin your state of mind. Often if you're having fun, the audience will be able to tell and have fun with you.
    • Take criticism with a grain of salt. If your director is telling you to do something differently, don’t take it as a personal insult. Instead, see it as a chance to improve your acting.
    • Your acting improves and is more natural when you are having fun instead of stressing out. By being positive and relieving tension and stress, you’ll be able to slip into your character more easily.
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    Release your inhibitions. Practice relaxation exercises, get into character and stop worrying about how others will perceive you. You don't do this because it's anxiety-provoking! You do it because it feels awesome.
    • Look in the mirror and say, “I am no longer myself. I am now [insert character name].” You are not yourself anymore, so you don’t have to worry about what people think about you. Remember that when you do something, audience members aren’t seeing you. They’re seeing your character.
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    Know when it’s your turn. Be aware of when it’s your time to go onstage or enter a scene. You'll have half a dozen people on your case (beside the voices in your head) if you miss your cue. When it’s almost your turn, you should be waiting in the wings (or off camera), getting yourself in character with your props ready.
    • Go to the bathroom before the performance starts. You don’t want to miss your cue because you were off using the restroom having a nervous pee or grabbing something to eat.
    • Listen carefully for your cue. Even if you think you know around what time you’re supposed to go on, be aware and listen carefully to the scene that’s happening. Don’t get distracted or talk to other people.
    • If there is an emergency and you absolutely have to go to the restroom or run to your car, let someone know even if you think you’ll be back in time for your scene. HAHA. Did you catch that? That was a joke. Funny, huh? Okay, okay, emergencies do exist. But unless someone died or your insides are about to explode, you make that cue. You'll probably not have to tell anyone as you rocket to the nearest receptacle, heaving your guts out. They'll most likely notice.
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    Be aware of your position and surroundings. When you’re in a play or on camera, you want to know where you should be spatially. To be put tersely, "find the light." Stay in it. It's there to illuminate you.
    • When you speak, turn slightly towards the audience. This is called "quartering." You want the audience to be able to see you and hear your voice, while making it believable that you're having a conversation. If your director tells you you're closed, moved 90º (a quarter of a circle) outward.
    • If you’re filming something, don’t look directly at the camera unless you're on an episode of the Office and the director tells you that you should. Instead, speak to the other actors and interact with the surroundings as your character would.

Part 4
Working with Others

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    Listen to the director. The director knows the overall picture of the production, so he or she will know what they are talking about. Take their criticism or suggestions seriously. If they want you to do something and you understand why, do it.[4].
    • Follow stage directions and incorporate them when you’re practicing your lines. That being said, if you don't understand why, ask! You do not want to cross the stage not knowing why the heck you're doing it. Your director will love that you're trying to understand your character.
    • Ask questions (before your director says anything) if you’re unclear about how you should do something. If you’re not sure about how to react to something or how you should deliver a certain line, don’t be afraid to ask the director. They usually have a pretty clear sense of what they’re looking for.
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    Don’t be a diva. Remember that acting is not all about you and that the entire production is a team effort.[5] Where would you be without the other actors, prop, tech, and costume crew? Naked on a poorly lit stage all by yourself, that's where.
    • If you have the leading role in a production, no, you don't have the hardest part. Calm down and step off your ivory tower. Try running an entire crew or running the sound and light board simultaneously for the entire show. What happens when the sound cue guy gets mad at you? He doesn't hit the button for your gunshot. Haha. So be nice -- they can make or break you. There is no "I" in this team.
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    Act and react. You can nail every single line you have, but if you're not listening to the other person conversing with you, it's done for. Stick a fork in you because the fat lady has sung. Maybe the other actor took it an entirely different direction and now the scene is more passively heated than intense and angry -- you have to keep pace with the scene, wherever it goes. So act, yes. But react just as much.
    • Read your lines with your fellow actors and practice. Even if you know your lines perfectly yourself, you need to work with other people on delivery and work on the scene together. You should be playing off of your fellow actors, not just delivering lines by yourself. Have fun and experiment with it! That's the fun in acting.
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    Use the audience. Though you're technically not supposed to break the fourth wall (in most productions, at least), they're there. They're there and you have to work with them. And don't forget that them being there is a good thing. A great thing, rather! Feed off their energy. There's nothing quite like it.
    • When the audience laughs or applauds, give 'em a minute to shower you with affection. Okay, not a minute, but feel the scene. Let it die down a bit before you progress. Feel where they are and where you should go with the scene. This may seem a bit abstract, but as you get more experience, it'll make sense.
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    Show kindness and camaraderie. You want to build a rapport with the people you’re working with and show them that you appreciate the work they’ve done. They've worked just as hard as you have!
    • Wish your fellow actors good luck and tell them when you thought they did a great job. Say, “Break a leg!” before they go on stage and, “You did great!” after they’re done.
    • Thank the crew members for all their hard work. For example, if you had a really great makeup artist, you can tell her, “I really appreciate the work you’ve done. I couldn’t have looked more like the character!”


  • Remember to breathe regularly when you’re on stage or in front of the camera. This will help you to relax and will help you deliver your lines more clearly.
  • Study actors you admire. You can look up videos of your favorite actors and listen to their tips. Write down those that inspire you and try to incorporate them when you’re practicing.
  • If you forget a line or two, improvise. Sometimes, it works out. If you get the main idea of your character and the scene you're acting, say something to do with it. It doesn't have to be spot on. Even though there's a low chance you'll need to improvise, it's better than just standing there, lost for words.
  • Warm-up before an attempt at projecting. Do simple breathing exercises to help your throat warm up and do little body shakes to help get the "shivers" out before you go on stage.
  • If you’re still developing your character, people watch. You can look at strangers or people you know and pick up on habits and mannerisms that you’d like to incorporate into your character.
  • Think of a time in your own life when you had an emotional reaction to evoke the character’s emotional response. For example, if your character is very sad, you might want to think of a time when you had to put your dog down or a relative died.
  • If you have stage fright, you must practice in front of your family many times to get used to it.
  • Ask others to critique your acting. Sometimes, directors offer private classes to help you get better.
  • Go with the flow - Remember, mistakes don't matter if you make them look purposeful.
  • Be relaxed.
  • Don't be afraid of anything. When you perform, you are the king or the queen.
  • Act confident. Studies show that when you act confident, you're most likely be confident (when performing). Good luck!
  • Before acting breath in, close your eyes and think about something very exciting, sad ect. This REALLY helps me get into character.

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