How to Choose Intentions in Acting

Here it is, at long last:  How to Choose Intentions in Acting.  An example.

I’ve been meaning to write this art post for a while now because the topic comes up alllll the time.   Like almost every time I teach.  (Adults included.)

So maybe you have been studying acting for a little while now and you think you finally understand intentions (or actions, call it whatever you want!) and you set out to incorporate them into your work.  (If you don’t know what an intention is click here)

You get out your script from Ascension Day (by Timothy Mason) and look at your first line in the scene you are working on:

June:  Wesley!  You’re early.

Despite the fact that June is about to marry a soldier, you know from your script analysis that she has a giant crush on Wesley.  She is teaching the class at camp that Wesley is taking and when he walks in a tad before she was expecting him, this is how she reacts.

So how to pick a verb or verb phrase for this line?  …Hmmm.

Well, you think, I like him.  So it’s like I’m surprised and excited and nervous.  But those are feelings not actions and I can’t act “to surprised”, “to excited”, “to nervous” him.  Ok, what about “to be excited”?  To “be nervous”?

I see actors try to go this route a lot but here’s the problem:  It isn’t active.  It’s still playing emotion or mood.  You want your intention to make the other person think, feel or do something.

So you ask yourself:  What does June want Wesley to think, feel or do?

Well, as June, I don’t want to give away my crush or for him to see how nervous I am.  I also want him to like me.  Maybe I even secretly hopes he’ll fall in love with me?

With those things in mind, perhaps you need an intention to play to yourself so you don’t give yourself away.  The first part “Wesley!” is a reaction, the second “You’re early.” might work with an intention like “to ground yourself”.  “To chill out”. “To play it off”.

The next part is crucial.  You must DO IT.  Get off your butt and try it out.  Use your body and voice.  Use the work you have done on who Wesley is to you so you can really react when you see him.

You try them all out and you decide you like “to chill out” the best but still something about it doesn’t feel quite right and you won’t settle.  (Remember, you are the painter in front of your canvas selecting the perfect shade of orange for your sunset masterpiece and just any old orange will not do!)

Ahhhh, right!  June teaches a class called Nature Tips in 1947 at a Wisconsin Bible camp!  Maybe “to chill out” isn’t quite her vibe or language…What about “to gain composure”?!

You try it out and it feels great so you pencil it in above the line, move on to the next one and trust you get to feel it out again when you work with the actor playing Wesley.

Does that help?  I hope so!  Let me know if you have questions!

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