Tips on Acting for Drama

Acting in Soap Operas

In the old days, soap opera acting was synonymous with cheesy acting. Crying women, brooding men… Some soap operas do still hold that honor, but most have begin to hire actors who can bring a bit of reality to their roles.

Think of a soap opera as real life with the intensity knob turned up a few notches. In a moment of conflict, don’t go overboard with your emotion, but simply intensify it. Audiences thrill at living through their favorite characters vicariously. The more vivid your emotions, the more you give your fans something to experience and enjoy.

Drama Schools

Drama schools focus on the development of acting technique, usually focusing on work in the theater. Although the work is performance based, students typically also learn about stage craft. Classes on set building, lighting design, and even dramatic writing are often offered so that students get a well-rounded education.

Because they are so specialized, they tend to have a highly competitive admissions process. Applicants must submit to an audition process before they are granted admission. Previous school transcripts can also be taken in to consideration, as well as any previous professional experience in the field. Take time to prepare your audition materials as well as your curriculum vitae in order to present a professional package to the admissions board.

Exercise: Playing for Status

Status is a huge part of acting technique. Much of human interaction can be broken down in to shifting issues of status. During the course of a normal conversation, a person’s status may shift from high to low, and back again, depending on the topic of the conversation.

Be conscious of your body language. What kind of status is your body projecting? You should also take note of the timbre of your voice. Is it clear and confident or low and quavering? These factors help determine your status in a scene, and thereby establish your position and goals within it.

Try this: You and your scene partner take one card each from a deck of cards. Do not share the number you have. Begin a scene you are working on. The higher your number, the higher status you should play. Once the scene is finished, compare numbers to see how accurate your portrayal was.

Mantras in Drama

A simple strategy for creating honest drama is through the use of mantras. This is often referred to as the subtext in a scene. In other words, it’s not what you’re saying to the other character(s), but rather what is going on in your mind behind the words , as it were.

In order to make subtext work for you, while you are acting in a scene, recite an appropriate phrase over and over again in your head. For example, if you are playing in a scene that involves a fight, you may want to try reciting, “I hate you,” in your head during the scene. This subtext mantra will subconsciously affect your performance, making it seem more natural.

The Elements of Drama

The primary elements of drama are theme, plot, and character.

  • Theme: The central idea of the work, or the message the writer wishes to impart on the audience. The theme governs the progression of the plot.
  • Plot: The storyline, or the “what happens” of the piece. Plot governs the characters actions and emotions.
  • Character: The players in the piece. They move through the plot’s conflicts, thereby helping to further develop the theme.

Other elements such as irony and symbolism can be added to lend more subtle touches to the drama, making it more human and accessible.

What is Drama?

The definition of drama is a piece that involves plot and characters that are governed by a certain overriding theme. Your job as an actor is to investigate and understand this theme. Work within the themes of the drama and let it flow through you and the relationships that you build with other characters. Once you have thoroughly read the piece, discuss the stage- or screenplay with your fellow actors, the director or the dramaturg, if one is available. Developing a sense of unity concerning the motivations of each character will help round out the production as a whole.

You Are Not Your Character

There is a saying in drama: Leave your personal problems at the stage door. In other words, don’t let your current mood affect your performance. You are not your character.

While on stage or in front of the camera, you are the character you are playing, not the other way around. Although you and presumably your character are both human beings, your feelings must be put on hold in order to give precedence to what your character is feeling. When you are no longer in character, try to patiently observe your own feelings so that you can call upon them to breathe life into your future roles.