Every scene you play as an actor, no matter how old you are, will require a deep understanding from you. You need to understand who the character is, what the context of the scene and larger story is, and countless other aspects of the scene that will make your work on and with it shine.
In our opinion, there are five steps you need to take to truly understand a scene. To help walk you through and illustrate them, let’s use the following scene scenario as a setup for the five steps that will help you work on your character and the scene: You are a 17-year-old whose mom has just returned from three months at a drug rehab facility. You’ve been living with your dad while she was getting help and even though she’s back home and clean, she is still struggling and not the fully-recovered mom you hoped to find.
Step 1: Determine the given circumstances.
The given circumstances are what you know from the text based on what the writer has told you with his or her words. Your mom has been in rehab detoxing from drugs. You have been living with your dad while she was away. Now that she is home, you’re getting used to what life is like with a recovering, struggling parent.
Step 2: Find your deep wish.
Also known as your objective, this is what your character needs to happen. In the above scene, your deep wish is to have your mother be the role model you always wanted and be a loving, protective, participating parent. You have been without this your whole life and have suffered greatly.
Step 3: Identify the opponent or obstacle.
Internal or external, this is something that gets in the way of you getting what you want. In life, we don’t always have an obstacle but in acting, there must be one to create the struggle. If it’s too easy to get what you want without a fight, there’s nothing interesting happening. The obstacle in this scene could be that your mom is in too much pain and not willing to get well right now.
Step 4: Personalize.
Now that you have your identified your deep need and discovered what’s in the way of achieving it, you’ll need to personalize the situation to make it true for you. Begin this process by looking at the character’s situation and asking what might be going on in your life that could lead to a similar problem or challenge to overcome. What you choose to work with can be imaginary/fictional, but the meaning must hold true.
Step 5: Now do.
This the most vital part. Acting is doing. What are you going to do to get what you want? Perhaps you beg and plead with your mom to stop using drugs. Maybe you start parenting your mom in a role reversal to get your—and her—needs met. It’s in this doing, this action, that you become a compelling actor.