I don’t know about you, but for me, teaching young actors how to unpack a script is pretty challenging. Even when they have been doing newfangled “talking to the text” Common Core work in their English classes, the fact is that most English teachers, even though they might teach plays, don’t focus on the text of a script in a way that helps a young actor understand how to mine it for character, a character that will need to be played. Character analysis for actors is wildly different than for students of literature, and is a teachable skill.
Most young actors may be unaware that there is work to be done. Thankfully, my friend Martin David, a terrific actor and teacher out of Denver, has written a concise guide to this important practice. It’s available for peanuts on Amazon here.
The great thing about this work that he has created is that it can go directly to your students without filtering from you. Much of what I bring to the classroom is my attempt to adapt the teachings of great masters into adolescent-friendly form. I read books, I take workshops, and then I make the tweaks and adjustments necessary to translate the work into a meaningful way for my students, which has worked for me with some pretty impenetrable material, everything from Michael Chekhov to Meisner to the Rasaboxes.
But Martin’s guide could go right into your rooms and be applied to the scripts they are working on now. He breaks the process of approaching the script into simple pieces, covering:
- What script analysis is and why it’s important
- The parts of a play from act to scene to beat and how to break it down
- What a beat actually is ( and he gives a wonderful, very accessible example from Hamlet)
- The different types of beats, objective, personal, and the very interesting physical type
- The importance of annotating a script, even down to the permisison to give personal names to beats
- The secret world of what I’ve always called “actor talk”
- The three simple questions which guide an actor’s relationships to the words in a text:
- What am I saying?
- Why am I saying it now?
- What does it mean to me?
- How to put it all together.
In short, Martin David’s simple, logical, user friendly approach will give novice actors not only the tools to systematically examine a script, but also the confidence to begin to trust their own instincts and imagination in the acting process.
I highly recommend this work and plan to test drive it in my classroom this semester. Check it out, you’ll be happy you did.
“Do you hear a faint heartbeat? That is your character beginning to breathe and come to life.” – Martin David