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How to Be a Better Stage Actor

One Methods:Birth-of-acting approach

Have you ever wanted to begin acting, or do you just need some pointers on acting? Either way, taking these simple steps will improve you as an actor, as well as improve your chances at landing a great role!


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    Relax. Great actors spend their entire careers learning to relax the muscles in their face and body at will. Tension is very obvious when you are on stage. Your voice will sound thin and wavering, and your movements will be jerky and unattractive. To avoid these stiff and nervous displays when you're acting, it is essential to remain as relaxed as possible. Even a scene involving high drama calls for measured and calm concentration from the actor. So, act dramatic, but be calm inside, and don't work yourself up.
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    Focus your attention on something on stage. It could be another actor, a prop, etc. Keep yourself in the moment and never stare off into space. It is obvious to the audience if you are spacing out, and it is very distracting. Keeping in the moment enables you to remain in character and enhances the believability of the role and the play itself. In real life, we tend to look at the eyes of the people we're speaking with (or listening to), so doing that on stage will appear quite natural.
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    Try not to play with your clothes or use other nervous gestures (unless you're trying to portray nervousness). Just look at the back of the theater or your focus point if you are tense. Looking into the eyes of your fellow actors can be reassuring and let you feel not so "alone" on stage.
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    Immerse yourself in the role completely. Forget that you are pretending, and try to become the character you are playing. Envision how that person reacts to life, how that person dresses, walks, thinks and converses with others. Don't be afraid to act like someone else. Draw on these visualizations when portraying the character. Always stay in that state of mind when acting. If you only pretend to be sad, it's an effort; if you are sad, the result is more authentic. Don't act the character, be the character.
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    Remember that everything should be more clear on stage. While acting, you need to enunciate your words carefully (speak clearly) and project your voice farther than normal (which is not the same thing as shouting), because there are people a good distance away who are trying to understand what you're saying. All the emotions on your face should be formed in a more intense manner (but remember to stay relaxed). If you feel like you're over-acting, then you're probably acting just enough. Eyes, smile, facial expressions, gestures, etc. need to be more expansive and dramatic than you would ever make them in real life. This is often confused with exaggeration, but it really isn't. Exaggeration means making your actions and speech "bigger." Instead, you want better.
    • It's different if you're acting in front of a camera. Here you must be more subtle, as in real life. A camera picks up subtleties very easily. Broad and exaggerated movements suitable for stage acting often look "hammed up" on film.
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    Treat the little things as being very important. If you're performing for an audience (either live or on film), do everything you can to make the audience believe the character you're portraying. If the script says that someone is talking too much, then show a look of annoyance on your face, and perhaps accompany that with impatient tapping of your foot. If you're supposed to be near tears, blink hard, look downwards, fiddle with your clothes, and try to stare without blinking until your eyes water. Little actions are noticeable, including very expressive facial features. Employ as many of your senses as possible, such as playing music, putting on make-up, turning on some lights; anything that can make the room seem happy or sad to fit the character's mood that you are trying to display. This includes modifying your voice, which can be done by spending time with people who have an accent you want to mimic, learning a new dialect, or even getting a voice coach. There are also recordings and books to help you master an accent.
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    Work on projecting. Invest in a cheap recorder (tape, CD, flash drive). Set the recorder at a distance (start with 20 feet -- 6 meters), press record, back away, and speak a simple sentence, such as "My shirt is blue and my eyes are, too." Try other sentences, too. ("How now brown cow" is a famous one). Listen to how you sound in the recording. Challenge yourself by backing farther away and repeating the words. You'll have to project your voice more each time in order to be heard clearly on the recording.
    • The difference between "projecting" and "shouting" is a subtle one. Essentially, projecting means to speak loudly while sounding "normal." In shouting, your tone of voice changes to something more strident. In projecting, you sound like you're just talking, but you can be heard at a distance.
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    Warm up your vocal cords. Breathe and alliterate. Do numerous vocal warm ups to ensure that you do not strain your vocal cords. Concentrate on enunciating your words so that your voice comes across clearly. Record yourself saying a complex sentence such as, "Why, oh why haven't you seen those rambunctious twins, Jill and Bill?". Try speaking this with and without emotion. Then replay the recording, listening for sounds you can enunciate more clearly. Ee-NUNN-see-ate eh-ver-ee sill-uh-bull.
    • Remember, however, that when you actually act, you can't do this! It's just an exercise that should be done in front of a mirror for practice. Do it enough, though, and you'll find yourself doing it automatically on stage.
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    Concentrate on your expressions. Facial expressions should be combined with simultaneous vocal inflections. Say a simple "Oh!" in front of a mirror. Notice both your face and your voice. Alternately portray sadness, awe, anger, fear, shock, excitement, and any other emotion you can think of.
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    Practice your lines repeatedly.
    • Make copies of your lines. Write or print them out, so that you can leave copies everywhere you're likely to see them. Keep a copy in your bag, your desk drawer, next to your bed, in the bathroom, at the kitchen table, on the wall, in front of a favorite window.
    • Read your lines at every opportunity -- before you go to bed, when you wake up in the morning, waiting for a bus, cooking dinner. Recite the lines over and over, remembering to include intonation and facial expressions so that these become second nature when you perform them on stage.
    • If you have a long passage, say the first line over and over until you are comfortable with your intonation and phrasing. Then practice the first two lines. Work repeatedly on those lines until you are ready to add the next one. And so on. (Or you can work backwards, starting with the last line, then the last two lines, etc.) Once you are comfortable with the whole passage, explore its meaning, and refine your delivery to highlight it.
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    Meet a wide array of people. Get to know a diverse group of people. You can't possibly act like someone you've never observed. Talk to people you'd normally not think of spending time with. Think of it as research for future roles.
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    Learn from other actors. It is not cheating or copying to learn from others. Watch other actors and see what they do with the parts they're given. You will learn a lot. You'll see things they do that you might incorporate into your own acting style. Just do it in a way that's unique to you. You'll develop ideas for overcoming aspects of acting that you might be finding strange or difficult. Don't be shy about asking other actors for help. Most will be more than happy to offer you advice.
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    Use the stage lights to kill stage fright. If you're less than comfortable performing before a live audience, trick yourself. When the house lights go out and the stage lights go on, you won't be able to see the audience, except for the first row or two. Just pretend you're acting for a few friends.
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    Block out the audience. Whether it be a live audience, a camera, or a close friend or relative, pretend there's a wall between you and the audience. They call this "the fourth wall." You're no longer on a stage or a set, you're in your private world, and the audience doesn't exist. Just remember never to turn your back on the audience.
    • Some plays require you to speak directly to the audience. This is called 'breaking the fourth wall." If you are required to do this, pretend you're merely looking at them but speaking to your fellow actors on stage. It may also help to look above the audience.

Birth-of-acting approach

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    Look up the meaning of the name the playwright has chosen for your character. What are the cultural implications of this name? Does it suggest a specific type of acting? Does it lend a broader context to the role?
    • As an example, the name might suggest a kind of animal. Think about that animal, how it moves, how it feeds itself. Perhaps you could develop a characteristic action, gesture or attitude emblematic of such a creature. The best actors are good at creating unusual or attention-worthy moments.
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    Speculate about the dreams and ambitions the character might have. Would the person like to be an astronaut? An explorer? A schoolteacher?
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    Give your character details. Take cues from the script and construct an intellectual and emotional portrait of the person you're playing. The character will stand out with this preparation. What traits might fit? Think about clothing, grooming, posture, and vocal habits.
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    Decide where this character is going. If s/he lives in poverty, is s/he moving into a better situation and resolving conflict, or will this character remain a poor example for others?
    • What is good, bad or ugly about this character? How is that expressed in choice of clothing, grooming or other personal style?
    • What would the character say, think or dwell on? What would never be spoken?
    • What little things lift or oppress the character's soul? Does s/he have a favorite color, decorative style, or unique habit?
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    Consider links to others. How important are the character's relationships to other people (including the audience)? If they're strong, why is this the case? If not, how do the character's behavior and attitude impact the play? What subtle or natural behaviors appeal to the audience or place the character in the audience's own experiences?


  • Don't turn your back to the audience unless it's required in a stage movement. Let them see your face as much as possible if only in profile.
  • To practice vocal inflection, trying saying a simple phrase, ("oh john," for example) in as many different ways as you can: excited, sneering, sarcastic, romantic, etc.
  • If you're expressing anger or fear, don't speak overly fast (although that's what you might do in real life), because the audience could have trouble understanding what you're saying.
  • If you're trying to cry, rub your eyes. There are many tricks you can use to create illusions. Actors have been known to resort to onions to bring on those tears.
  • Maintain eye contact with your fellow actors while performing. It's an encouragement to each other and a way to block out the audience (if that's what you want to do).
  • Take dancing and singing lessons. You'll be able to get more parts if you can sing and dance as well as act. There's a fine line, however. Some directors may type-cast you in musical roles if you concentrate too much on singing and dancing.
  • If you forget a line in performance, don't panic. It's a normal part of acting. Just say what your character would say in that moment. Try your best to say your proper lines, however, because the other actors are waiting for their cues, and your improvised line can force others to invent lines of their own.
  • Research your character on the Web. Find out as much as you can so you can better connect with your character.
  • To help you get in character, be the character offstage, too. Do what s/he would do. Eat what s/he would eat. Talk as s/he would talk. Amuse your friends and family.
  • If something goes wrong onstage, just keep going. Do not stop, laugh, or feel embarrassed. See if you can keep the audience from realizing a mistake was made.
  • Speak clearly. Use distinct mouth movements, and let people in the back of the audience read your lips if they can't hear you. Practice saying your lines in front of a mirror, and watch your mouth movements carefully.
  • Vicks VapoRub applied under the eyes is effective for making you cry. Apply just a little, however, so it won't be too visible. You have to apply it without being obvious. (People starting to cry often bring their hands to their face.) Just don't get it in your eyes.
  • Try to be confident in your role. With experience you'll lose the fear and embarrassment beginning actors sometimes feel.
  • Connect with the audience. This can be a confidence boost. If your director permits it, interact with the audience. For example, if you have to wait while another character takes a long time to do something, you might roll your eyes for the audience and look at them. That can enhance their enjoyment.
  • To make the audience think that you are shocked by the words or actions of another character, stare unblinkingly at that person. Your eyes should begin to water, and the tears may flow. At the very least, let your eyes show sadness.
  • Know your acting weaknesses. Work on them with the help of your director and fellow actors. You all want the same thing: a good play.
  • Keep the script in mind throughout the day. It will help you remember your lines and stage directions.
  • If you're playing a feminine character, and you have to cry in a scene, fanning your eyes and sagging a little as you breathe out works like a charm.


  • Don't worry if you can't cry on cue. The crying itself is a very small portion of the action going on in a scene. If you are truly evoking sadness and acting in the moment, the audience may spontaneously envision the tears themselves and believe that you were crying.
  • Don't worry about what your fellow actors are doing onstage. If they forget a line or skip to another one later in the script, don't panic. Act like nothing happened, and say your line. If you're playing to a camera, of course, you can just stop and re-do it.
  • Here's how the above relates to acting: When "building" a character, try to formulate a set of beliefs for that character and a matrix of his/her possible actions in response to events and thoughts. What can follow, then, is a realistic flow of events. As an actor, you must convince yourself that an event within a play is truly good or bad (or somewhere in between), and you will feel the appropriate emotions for display in front of the audience. It also works in reverse to help you learn not to react uncontrollably in real-life situations. Ellis calls it rational imagery, where you imagine yourself in a situation, reacting normally but badly. Then you imagine yourself thinking rational thoughts and reacting rationally. For acting, you can do this in reverse. It is just a rehearsal of a different type.
  • There are many techniques in acting. Don't rely on one exclusively. Explore several, such as the Stanislavsky or Suzuki methods, which are different from the one described here.
  • Here is a different, more introspective approach to acting, based on the research of psychologist Albert Ellis. The following discussion introduces a rather more involved method of creating a stage character. Your emotions can trigger chemical secretions in your body. If you truly believe that something is "bad," your brain will produce a certain substance that will cause you to "feel bad." Our truly held beliefs determine our feelings. Outside events or memories will let our beliefs create emotions. When a person hears something that they believe is terrible, and they feel they must do something about it, they may experience anger which moves them to action. If they believe they cannot do anything, they may feel depressed, start to cry, perhaps do nothing, or even hurt themselves. There are endless variations.
  • What gets people into trouble is having irrational beliefs not based on reality. This can result in emotion-driven, destructive or blocking actions. They actually amount to demands for life to be different than it really is. For more details on this line of thinking see Albert Ellis' book on REBT, Rational Emotive Behavior Theory/Therapy.

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Categories: Acting