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Click to Teach/Click to Learn: Analyzing Text to Interpret a Role

How do actor's make their performances memorable? 
What makes an audience want to see the same play performed by many different actors?  

In this lesson you will explore how actors prepare their own unique interpretations of a role.  You will learn how to plan a strategy for your performance by "scoring" your text to help you explore possible interpretations.   

After watching a video about scoring, you'll compare and contrast two master performances of the same scene, then score your copy of a monologue or scene by indicating where each beat change is and what the character's actions will be during this beat.  Finally you will rehearse your planned interpretation and film your performance.  

This lesson is loosely based on the Advanced Acting Model Cornerstone Assessment, created by the writers of the National Core Theatre Standards.  

Step 1: Get Inspired

Actors translate a written text into an engaging performance by identifying tactics their character uses to try to accomplish their objectives. These tactics are "actions," expressed as action verbs, that convey the character's motivations at any given moment. In this short video the actor is challenged to deliver the line "Do you want a cup of tea?" with many different tactics, or actions, to accomplish several different objectives.  Notice how each action is directed towards you- the viewer.  The actor's objective is to make the viewer respond as he attempts to pursue what he wants- making you feel a certain way.  

Step 2: Choose a Scene or Monologue

Next choose some text to work on from a published play.  If you will be recording your performance and sharing it online be certain to choose royalty free text such as a scene or monologue from a classic play in the public domain.  EdTA offers four royalty free modern day plays written for educational use by playwright Jon Jory, you may also look at www.scenestudyemergencypack.com, a website which is partnering with playwrights to provide short plays free for educational use.  Whatever you choose, be sure you read the play and thoroughly understand the role. Read, read and read again. 

Step 3: Learn about Scoring

This short video explains how to "score" a script - or make notes on a script to identify the beats (a change in status, emotion, tactic or purpose) and the actions (action words which express the character's motivation for each beat) which help you begin to envision how you will play the role.  This video is designed for student self study as a part of the "Be The Teacher" series by theatre teacher Anthony Stripe.

Watch the video and then answer these questions:

1.  How did Mr. Stripe define beats? 
2.  What are the three things you should watch for in your second reading of the script?
3.  How do you choose an action word for each beat?

Step 4: Learn from the Greats

Actions are the character's tactics for achieving their objective.  Actions change from beat to beat within any scene or monologue depending upon what is happening in the scene.  Each actor works with their director and the script to determine the character's objectives and motivation; however the moment to moment tactics the character pursues to achieve this objective are up to the actor.  This is how the actor crafts the role, and this is the reason why each performance- even of the same role- will be different.  Compare and contrast these versions of the same famous scene from Hamlet - one by Kenneth Branagh, one by David Tennant, and one a collaborative piece by 30 actors.  

The plot:  The newly crowned King Claudius and his chief adviser Polonius have been discussing Hamlet's increasingly erratic behavior.  In fact it is because Hamlet has learned from his father's ghost that he was killed by Claudius, so that Claudius could take over the crown.  Now Hamlet is driven to despair, trying to determine what to do.   

Claudius and Polonius have invited Hamlet's love interest Ophelia to the castle, and they hide as Hamlet enters, hoping they will overhear something to help them know what is bothering him.  Hamlet believes himself to be alone as he ponders his situation from which there seems no escape without violence either to himself or others.  

Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet

In this famous scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, Kenneth Branagh plays Hamlet.  
What are some action verbs you think  Mr. Branagh chose? 

Kimber Elaine Sprawl's Collaborative Hamlet

Here is another version of the scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, Kimber Elaine Sprawl's collaborative performance with over 30 black actors. 
What action verbs do you think were chosen and why?  

David Tennant's Hamlet

Here is another version of the scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.   This version is played by David Tennant.
What are some action verbs you think Mr. Tennant chose?  

Compare and Contrast the Hamlets

Once you have watched all three videos and taken notes, revisit them to compare and contrast. 
Create three columns on a sheet of paper and label each with the name of the performance  "Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet", "David Tennant's Hamlet" or "Kimber Elain Sprawl's Collaborative Hamlet".  |
In each column write down a list of action words you believe that the actor(s) used.

Discuss with your class, or in your theatre journal:

How did the actor interpretations change the experience of the scene for you?  

Step 5: Score your Script

Now that you have seen how actors identify beats, it is time for you to score your monologue or scene script. For this step you will need a copy of your text.  Print out a copy of your chosen text now and get a pen or fine point marker.  You will be asked to "score" your text by identifying the beats and actions and then save it on your desktop or take a photo to upload to your online class folder.

1. Divide your script into sections by making a slash mark at each beat.  

2. For each beat, ask yourself "What is my character trying to do or accomplish?"  

3. Decide on a action word for each beat that expresses your character's goal for that beat. 
(You may use the words in Mr. Stripe's video or download this list from the Texas Art Project.)

If you need help, check out Beat It, by Jake Cullens.  A great in depth tutorial on understanding beats, including examples of scored scenes, from Dramatics.org. Read the article by clicking on the image below:


Step 6: Rehearse, revise and perform

You may not be done with your work after your first round of scoring.  After you have fully memorized your scene, try out your action words by performing your monologue in front of a mirror.  Next go back to your list and practice different levels of the same action to see which works best- for example the line "You wouldn't!"  could be played to dare someone to do something OR it could be played to bully someone into NOT doing something. 

Rehearse - Reflect - Refine

Ask someone to watch you perform your monologue in different ways using slightly different action words.   For a fun test - ask the person watching if they can tell what action word you are playing.  This process will lead you to make discoveries about the character that will help you polish your role. Maybe you thought you were playing "to bully" but the person watching your performance only saw "to dare"- that is a VERY different message. 


When you feel as if your monologue is ready to perform, record yourself performing and save that video to your folder or to your online classroom location.   

Here are some great tips about recording a performance so that your monologue will show well:
      How to Self-Tape      
      A CD's 12 Rules for the Perfect Self-Tape     
     13 Self-Tape Mistakes That Sabotage Your Chances

Measuring Learning

Use the "Interpretation" section of this Advanced Acting rubric for scoring your performance.  


Classroom Connections

This unit may be modified to be used at upper Middle Grades and all levels of High School. 

Suggested standards include:
Middle Grades
TH:Pr4.1.8.b. Use various character objectives in a drama/theatre work.
TH:Pr5.1.8.a. Use a variety of acting techniques to increase skills in a rehearsal or drama/theatre production.

High School Proficient
TH:Pr4.1.I.b. Shape character choices using given circumstances in a drama/theatre work.
TH:Pr5.1.I.a. Practice various acting techniques to expand skills in a rehearsal or drama/theatre production.

High School Accomplished
TH:Pr5.1.II.a. Refine a range of acting skills to build a believable and sustainable drama/theatre performance.
TH:Pr6.1.II.a. Perform a scripted drama/theatre work for a specific audience.

High School Advanced
TH:Pr4.1.III.b. Apply a variety of researched acting techniques as an approach to character choices in a drama/theatre work.
TH:Pr6.1.III.a. Present a drama/theatre production for a specific audience that employs research and analysis grounded in the creative perspectives of the playwright, director, designer, and dramaturg.