“Tonight, I want you to lie in bed and think about the entire day you had today and relive it until the part where you got into bed. That will give you an idea of one way to prepare a prior circumstance. Many actors will simply put an imaginary event into that circumstance. If you can’t sleep, try putting in an imaginary event (good or bad) and see if you can believe it; get into bed with that.
In the next class, you will do an exercise that brings the entire technique together. Well done, everybody!”
–A Young Actor Prepares – Applause Books
Release date: November 1st, 2021
Acting is all about believing the imaginary and allowing it to take you on the journey of the character. As actors, we are in service to the writer of the film or the play. It is our job to make the event of the play real for us. You have to have lived the life of the character before entering.
Today, I want to talk about the moment before the scene begins.
Many young actors get stuck on this part of preparation. There are many ways to create the moment before and each actor has a different process. My job is to help you find yours.
Has there ever been a movie that moved you in a strong way? Have you ever watched a film and started crying, laughing hysterically, or found yourself angry? Have you ever felt empathetic to the main character and what they were struggling with?
Of course, you have! Visualizing is a terrific way to use your imagination to create the moment before. After sitting quietly and relaxing your muscles in a chair, check in with your mood today and what you are feeling, allow those feelings to color the scene. Next, visualize the moment before. See yourself living the character’s past. See it happening to you right now. It’s as if you are watching a movie and you are the star of that movie and it’s all happening to you. You know you’re ready to start because you start to feel the emotion in your gut. You don’t want to indulge the emotion but allow the tension that it brings up to provide the tension in the scene. You are about to fight for what you want from the other character in the scene. That’s your main task once the scene begins. Make sure the story you are visualizing is real and personal to you.
For example, let’s look at the story of Charlie in Willy Wonka. The character is living in poverty and is desperately trying to raise his family out of poverty. Let’s suppose you are filming the scene where you hope to have that one chocolate bar that will contain that golden ticket. Your Grandpa Jo used the last bit of money that he had to buy you this opportunity. It’s late at night and he just handed you the chocolate bar. Your hands are shaking as you slowly and desperately open the bar hoping for your big chance. Here are the things you need for this scene to become real for you.
Character facts: You have to get up early, go to school, not spend a penny, and help care for your sick relatives that you love dearly. You have bad shoes that hurt your feet, you have a huge paper route that goes for miles to pay for your struggling family. You work after school till 8PM, eat a small dinner and do homework until bedtime. You just saw the news at the newsstand that there is only one golden ticket left. You are walking in tired and exhausted. You enter the room and quietly try to go to bed without waking up your family. Then…all of a sudden, your grandpa whispers “Charlie!!” in a hoarse whisper and the scene starts.
How would you prep this? What should you create? What movie would you visualize in your head bring you into this scene organically?
Here’s one idea: See yourself waking up in your own room at 430AM. Visualize your own room and perhaps see it run down and falling apart. You jump out of bed and feel a splash on your bare feet. There’s another leak in the roof and you go get a pan from your Grandpa Jo to put under the leak in your room. It’s raining and your feet will be wet today. All through the house you hear the drips from various leaks in the house. Next, see yourself at school. Take a bad day that you actually experienced and see it happening to you all over again! If you want the day to be worse, then add a narrative that will make the scene even more aggravating.
Now, add a narrative, that you went to the local laundromat to get your shoes dried off before doing your paper route and you were late for pick up and the boss threatened to fire you. You beg to keep your job. You begin your route. You say hi to some of your customers on the route. The neighbor’s dog comes running playfully up to you and rips your pant leg of your school pants. This is the only pair you have and now they will have to be mended. You go in your pocket, and you find you have 50 cents for a Wonka bar, so you go into the candy shop and you buy one. You open it and there is nothing in it. On television, you notice that the newscaster has just announced that there is only one more golden ticket left. You are feeling dejected as you head back home carrying your book bag, chocolate bar (which could have been used for food and clothing), and enter the front door. Then the scene begins.
An actor can add anything to the story as long as it brings the given story of the character to life.
Here are some fun exercises to practice:
Relive a genuine bad day with your eyes closed. See it happening and then open your eyes and enter your house and do whatever it is you do when you arrive. If you are greeted by the dog, allow that to happen. If you sort mail make yourself a snack, do that. The purpose of the exercise is to allow the moment before to affect your behavior.
Relive a wonderful day and do the same thing.
Now relive the bad day but add a narrative that would make it even worse. That would be the imaginary part. Then do the same entrance and activity as before.
Add a narrative that would make the day even better. See it happening and do the same entrance.
Remember, never tell anyone about your personal events. Your life belongs to you and it is the colors that an actor paints with. You can use any circumstance you want. Perhaps you are coming home from the Oscars. Perhaps, you just witnessed a murder and ran home because you were afraid. The more outrageous the story, the more imagination you will need to use. It can be extremely difficult, but once you are able get the scene compelling, you will be on your way to greatness.