Acting Exercises for Students and Other Beginners

Here are a few acting exercises you can use to sharpen up your craft. Some of them are simple theatre games, while others are more complex. All of them are designed to help your acting abilities.

Please note: Some of these acting exercises require the use of a character. Go read a play that you've never heard of and choose a character that interests you.

Middle and High School

Alphabet Scene
Two students are selected. Everyone else thinks up a scenario for them and a letter to start with. Then they play the scene, using each letter of the alphabet.

For example: If Y is the letter chosen, the first line of the scene starts with Y. The next line starts with the letter Z. The next line starts with A. And so on.

If you want to make it harder, add more actors.

This acting exercise is like a game. It forces the actor to think on his feet and use his imagination.

Acting Exercises

Zip Zap Zop
Gather everyone into a circle. One student starts by clapping his hands at another and saying "Zip." That student immediately responds by clapping his hands at another and saying "Zap." Again, that student claps at yet another and says "Zop." The process repeats over and over, getting faster and faster, until someone says the wrong word, or hesitates too long. That person is then eliminated from the circle. The last student standing is the winner.

This game is great for concentration, eye contact, and acting on impulse. Also a great game for getting to know each other.

Two students improvise a scene suggested by the audience. After a minute or so, a student from the audience might yell "Freeze!" The two actors freeze in their pose. The student from the audience replaces one of the actors, assuming that same pose. That student must now begin a new scene, based on the pose he is in.

This game helps a student to explore their physical world and how it relates to acting. It also stretches their imagination.

Question Scene
Two students improvise a scene where the all lines must be questions. If someone hesitates or fails to ask a question, another student takes their place. The scene continues.

This game forces a student to think on his feet and trust their instincts.

Backwards Scene
Two students are selected. The class makes up the last line of an imaginary scene. The students must then improvise a scene backwards. (And if you want to make it harder, add more actors.)

This acting exercise forces an actor to think on her feet and use her imagination.

Party Quirks
One student plays the host of the party. Three other students are each given a wierd quirk. (For example, "thinks he's Madonna".) One by one, the students enter as guests at the party. It's up to the "host" to guess their wierd quirk.

The students with the quirks are forced to get their idea across using only their behavior and speech.

College Level

Public Solitude
The student will play out their morning routine in the studio as if they were alone. Wake up, brush and floss, call a friend, make their bed, etc. It should be as close to reality as possible. Have them bring in their posessions and set up their living space. (In the interest of time, limit each student to 20 minutes.)

Public solitude is the artificial sense of privacy. Humans don't behave the same way if other humans are watching. The goal of this acting exercise is to forget the audience exists.

Two students will stand on opposite sides of the room, facing each other. One makes a simple observation about the other: "You're wearing a blue shirt." The other student simply repeats it: "I'm wearing a blue shirt." They repeat that same statement until they feel they have to change the statement.

"Stop looking at my shirt!"

"Stop looking at your shirt?"

And so on. They must keep repeating. Don't let them stop and think of something to say, just repeat.

Repetition helps a student to "get out of their head." They must act on their impulses instead of logic or wit. It also trains the student to pay acute attention to their scene partner.

Individual Exercises and Homework

Observe a complete stranger for few minutes. Describe his or her behavior. Are they sitting, standing, walking? Who do you think they are? How are they feeling? What are they doing? Reading a book, waiting for someone, having a conversation? (Note: Don't let them notice you. It will ruin the exercise.)

Acting is behavior. Nothing more. The better you become at reading someone else's behavior, the more keenly you will react to it.

Choose a theme song for your character. Is it classical, or contemporary? Does it have lyrics, or is it instrumental? Is it fast, or slow? If your character were a piece of music, what would they sound like?

A simple yet effective acting exercise. After you've chosen a piece of music, put it on your iPod and play it just before a performance.

Circle of Concentration
Immediate Circle: Choose a location and get comfortable. Imagine that there's a circle around you, about 10 feet in diameter. Your task for the next five minutes is to concentrate only on the objects within that imaginary circle. How would they feel, or smell? How heavy are they? What color?

Intermediate Circle: The rules are the same, but the circle enlarges. This time it's the whole room. Do another five minutes.

Distant Circle: You might want to go outside for this one. Now the circle is as large as a house. Do another five minutes.

If your attention moves outside the circle, gently move it back. Don't feel discouraged. Not only is it unhelpful, it isn't within the circle. So you're not allowed to think about it.

Concentration is very important for an actor. When playing a scene, you must reject the stimuli you're experiencing as an actor in favor of the stimuli of the character. In other words, you must see what your character sees.

Research your character's life. Down to the last detail. How old are they? What do they do for money? Where do they live? What color fingernail polish do they wear? Are their parents alive? If not, what happened? Write everything down. Be specific.

Not so much an acting exercise, more like homework. But the more you discover about your character's circumstances, the better you are able to answer the question: "If I were this character, how would I behave?"

Right now, vividly recall an event from your character's past. See it play out in front of you like a movie scene. Be specific. As the scene plays out, move from third person to first person. Put yourself in the scene. Become your character.

This acting exercise will help you to "own" your character. Their experiences become your experiences. It's also quite a workout for the imagination.

Acting exercises are a key to success for any actor. They keep your mind and body sharp during those times when you're not working. Hopefully, you'll use some of these and apply them to your craft.

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