Advanced Acting Lesson – Truly Understanding Your Character’s Words

When I was outlining this article, I almost deleted it as I thought that this information would be too arbitrary for advanced-level actors; however, after attending a rehearsal, I quickly changed my mind.

As an actor, it is important to understand the meaning of each and every word “you” speak. Now, I’m not talking about some giant philosophical definition for each word, but the actual, literal meaning.

You would be surprised at the number of actors who arrive at a rehearsal and deliver lines without truly grasping the meaning (definition) of each word. This is very common among classical plays and scripts.

Understanding the definition of each word will not only allow you the ability to truly grasp what your character is saying, but it will also provide you with an opportunity to use these definitions as a means of customizing the delivery and purpose of your dialogue.

Write Definitions

This tip may harken days-gone-by whereas a schoolchild you were required to write the definition of the current week’s vocabulary list. While this may seem silly to some, it is important for an actor to write down the literal definition for his dialogue. Don’t feel required to do this for easy words, or words that you are 100 percent sure of the definition, but do this action for words you are unfamiliar with as well as with action words.

The reason why I feel it is important for actors to define their action words (even if they are fully aware of the definition) is because seeing the literal definition for an action word can help you understand why your character chose to speak it.

Research Current Meanings

This specific section will mainly be used for actors who are performing in period or classical productions. As a classical actor, the only way for you to truthfully perform your dialogue is to actually understand what the character meant – what his words truly mean.

The meaning of words and the use of words has dramatically changed over the centuries, and sometimes what you would think a word or phrase means one thing according to modern definitions when actually is means something completely different. Take your time and do your research when performing classical or period pieces.

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