Friday, September 02, 2011

Actioning: A Technique for Actors to Give Purpose to Each and Every Line

"Actioning" came from Stanislavski (1863-1938), a Russian actor & theorist who sought to enhance depth of emotion and honesty in the performances of actors.  Actioning, in a nutshell, is the choosing of a verb (action word) to think of subconsciously during the delivery of a line to another actor. One line, one sentence, one breath - one Action. This technique comes in handy when trying to find meaning to a sentence or line which is confusing or the purpose of delivering such a line is unclear.  If an actor puts action words to every line they deliver in a script, it is ensured that every line will be delivered with meaning and purpose.

When putting actions to your lines it is best to fill in the blank: "I ______ you" with a transitive verb (a 'doing' word).  To better express the effectiveness of this technique, I will use a simple line as follows: "How do you like your coffee?".  Think of the following action words prior to reading the question.
-[I avoid you] "How do you like your coffee?"
-[I seduce you] "How do you like your coffee?"
-[I disturb you] "How do you like your coffee?"
-[I aggravate you] "How do you like your coffee?"

Actioning can also prove to be extremely effective when two actors, who share several minutes of dialogue within a script, work together to create action words that can motivate and drive a conversation into a specific direction. For example, let's take an excerpt from PICNIC by William Inge:
HOWARD: [I soothe you] Here we are, Honey. [I show you] Right back where we started from.
ROSEMARY: [I puzzle you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I encourage you] You were awful nice to me tonight, Rosemary.
ROSEMARY: [I disregard you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I coax you] Do you think Mrs.Owens suspects anything?
ROSEMARY: [I seduce you]  I don't care if she does.
HOWARD: [I assure you] A business man's got to be careful of talk. [I praise you] And after all, you're a school teacher.  [I dismiss you] Well, I guess I better be gettin' back to Cherryvale. [I avoid you] I gotta open up the store in the morning...
ROSEMARY: [I tackle you] Where you goin', Howard?
HOWARD: [I beg you] Honey, I gotta get home.

You can take the EXACT same dialogue and give it a different feel and meaning by simply changing the action words:
HOWARD: [I disgust you] Here we are, Honey. [I repulse you] Right back where we started from.
ROSEMARY: [I avoid you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I fondle you] You were awful nice to me tonight, Rosemary.
ROSEMARY: [I annoy you] Uhh.
HOWARD: [I worry you] Do you think Mrs.Owens suspects anything?
ROSEMARY: [I oppose you]  I don't care if she does.
HOWARD: [I ignore you] A business man's got to be careful of talk. [I cheapen you] And after all, you're a school teacher.  [I educate you] Well, I guess I better be gettin' back to Cherryvale. [I dissarm you] I gotta open up the store in the morning...
ROSEMARY: [I idolize you] Where you goin', Howard?
HOWARD: [I humiliate you] Honey, I gotta get home.

I use "Actions: The Actors' Thesaurus" by Marina Caldarone & Maggie Llyod-Williams when putting action words to my lines in a script. The book also includes a forward by Terry Johnson wich goes into greater depth & detail about Actioning, the origins, how to identify action words and select the most effective actions for a line.

Whenever you can't grasp why you say something or what your intentions are or what you want to do to another character, ACTION!