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Acting Fundamentals

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Drama notes semester 1 2017

Week 1

Acting fundamentals


  • Generated to:
  • Functionally interact with other during a performance
  • Reflect their character artistically
  • Creatively and psychologically communicate meaning
  • Voice: the utilisation of the vocalisation system and vocal techniques to audibly express meaning, create role or character, and have an impact on the other elements of drama
  • Human beings communicate not only through what they say, but also through the way they vocalise the words and how they share these words
  • 9 techniques to consider in voice (6P BAT):
  • posture
  • pitch
  • breathing
  • pace
  • pause
  • projection
  • phrasing
  • tone
  • accent


  • the voice is the body and the body is the voice
  • to produce high quality vocal sound requires effective body posture
  • make the body relatively straight and tension free
  • least amount of physical strain on supporting muscles and joints, whilst the body remains fluid
  • need to master posture when still in order to have good posture when moving through a space
  • standing position is not an active one (for a healthy actors body)
  • good posture requires a sense of dynamism internally
  • only when the actors posture is effective can they breathe accessing and controlling their entire lunge and breathing system (which is necessary for producing a high quality vocal sound)
  • in order to align neutral position:
  • feet should be shoulder width apart with toes pointing straight forward
  • feet should be directly underneath the knee, when bending knees move over the toes and the knees, hips and shoulders should align
  • knees that are ‘soft’ without pushing or locking kneecaps backwards
  • a spine that is erect fluid and drawn gently up to the ceiling in a straight position
  • arms that hang loosely by the actors side
  • neck; soft, relaxed and straight
  • a head that’s gently balanced and floating on top of the spine facing forwards


  • develop an adaptable and healthy breath support system
  • actors need to be able to utilise all of their support system and learn to manage and manipulate their breathing, and thus develop a sound breathing technique
  • use breath effectively and with flexibility as part of their characterisation and communication
  • ensure that diaphragm is used effectively to draw in deep breaths
  • when actively engaging the diaphragm properly actors are more able to draw a large amount of air into their lungs and vocalise for longer
  • diaphragm: a series of interconnected muscles and ligaments that sit at the base of the lungs
  • aids in respiration process
  • when diaphragm contracts it moves down giving more room to fill the lungs with air
  • when relaxed it returns to where it was pushing air back out of the lungs


  • pace: the rate of speed at which an actor talks.
  • Actors need to talk at a speed that is easily understood by the other actors and audience members
  • Pace should be appropriate for the character or situation
  • Sometimes these two things do not marry well (for example character is generally fast speaking but actor wants to be understood)
  • If an actor does need to speak quick and cant be understood they should work on articulation
  • The more adept you are at pronouncing each and every syllable and constant and vowel that make up each syllable the better the clarity
  • Saying tongue twister multiple times helps with this


  • Pitch: the level of highness or lowness at which the voice is placed
  • Pitch can refer to the exact placement of a single word or syllable or it could refer to a range of placements where a character tends to vocalise most.
  • The choice of how to use pitch must always reflect the character they are playing, the time and space of the inner world of the play, the style of the dramatic work and its overall creative vision
  • Vocal range of an actor needs to be extremely wide


  • Pause: when there is a gap in the vocal sound
  • This can be:
  • A mid to long break after one character or role finishes speaking
  • Can also occur during one characters dialogue at the end of a sentence or paragraph
  • Pauses are often used to characters to
  • Think
  • Hesitate
  • Assert self control
  • Assert control over others
  • Pauses create meaning
  • Actors utilise them consciously and unconsciously the transfer meaning to others


  • Voice projection: when the breathing and vocal systems are used well together to speak audibly and safely on stage
  • An actor needs to discern at what level they need to project their voice so that they can be effectively heard by the audience and other cast members
  • Not shouting
  • Projection is about accessing the diaphragm, filling the lungs with the breathe necessary and opening up the voice system to simply let out sound


  • Phrasing: the way in which the words of a sentence, part of a sentence or even several short sentences are grouped together and expressed as a single entity
  • One phrase most usually has one thought associated with it


  • Vocal tone: the emotional features that colour a characters voice and reveal insights about their feelings and inner life to other characters and audience
  • Their should be emotional undertones in someone’s voice and this should be received by other cast members and the audience (hot or cold, rich or thin etc)
  • When the tone is not appropriate to the character or situation this is because the actor has not worked hard enough in rehearsal to adequately open up their voice and access layers of emotional colour
  • Vowels can be useful in developing dextrous vocal tone ability
  • Actors need to stretch their vowels
  • By stretching out the vowels when speaking an actor is more likely to naturally allow their characters emotions to have an impact on their voice quality


  • Sometimes actors get involved with productions that involve characters speaking in an accent that uses some kind vocal style, rhythm or pronunciation that is different to the actors own
  • One of the ways that an actor can create a life-like character and/or one that helps establish the time and space the play is set in is adopt an accent for the role
  • Use a recording of the accent to help train your voice to be able to say almost any sentence with an accent largely different to their own

Vocal misuse

  • Not using voice effectively an actor can risk damaging it, which will in turn have negative ramification on their ability to perform
  • Excessive strain and tension in the muscles and tissues that form the voice system can harm the voice
  • Tiredness, lack of healthy food and dehydration can damage the physical part of the voice

Voice in presentational drama

  • Important that characters and roles imitate life in some way
  • The characters voices contribute to the believability of the performance
  • If the voices are not believable or don’t sound natural this leaves the audience unable to forget that they are watching a performance and not a real life event
  • Suspension of disbelief is a key convention of representational drama

Voice in realism

  • In realism:
  • Realism uses dialogue that is highly conversational and follows the basic rules of grammar
  • At times of increased emotion, the conversation heightens and becomes more stylised with more use of adjectives, adverbs and so on
  • During heightened emotion actors need to be more flexible with their vocal tone to connect the voice effectively with their feeling
  • The characters are always talking to other characters (and not to the audience) soliloquys, used in many other presentational forms, are abandoned
  • Characters speak with an explicit or implicit objective behind their speech and actors should justify every word that their characters say

Voice in naturalism

  • In naturalism:
  • Accents due to language dialects are extremely important
  • True to reflecting real-life, if appropriate to their character actors might mumble, garble, stammer, lisp and so on, even if the words are not easily understandable to others
  • Vocal, nonverbal sounds that are specific to a character, and the time, space, class and situation they’re in, need to be embraced
  • Nonverbal sounds that are specific to a character, and time, space, class and situation they’re in need to be embraced
  • If nonverbal sounds are not included in the script, actors may add them if appropriate
  • If appropriate crude language, colloquialisms, cursing and so on are used

Voice in presentational drama

  • Requires more flexibility and control than that which is need for representational forms
  • This is because non realistic drama does not focus on being true to life and thus often demands actors go beyond the realms of everyday speech, which could require more training, preparation and practise
  • An actor may be required to work with
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Different to their own
  • In some presentational genres an actor has to switch between difference use of language during the play or even within the same scene
  • A contemporary actor needs to have a highly developed vocal instrument, which they can then use with great diversity and control

Voice in ancient roman drama

  • In ancient roman drama
  • Speech is declaimed in a heightened style, especially in tragedies
  • Actors often speak directly to the audience
  • The focus is on communicating the meaning of the words
  • Language is typically poetic using a metered verse of alternating string and weak pulses
  • Actors need to accentuate the flow of the rhythm and stylised patterns of the speech in order to make the language work

Voice in renaissance drama

  • In renaissance drama:
  • actors need to connect emotionally with the sound and shape of the words as well as the meaning
  • some passages of dialogue and monologue were written in verse
  • actors needed to actively utilise phrasing and accentuate the flow of the flow of the rhythm and stylised patterns in order to make language work
  • other passages were written in prose in a colloquial style, and actors should experiment with finding phrasing, pause and pace that is different to the verse sections
  • pitch, range and tonal dexterity are needed to fully heighten the emotion of some lines and incite the audience

voice in expressionism

  • the language can change between realistic and non realistic, short/detached poetic styles
  • vocal staccato and clipped speech are often used
  • the dialogue is regularly cut right back to only include the absolute necessary words/phrases
  • alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition and other poetic devices are often included and need to be relished by the actor when vocalising to make the lines work
  • the delivery of the language as a whole tends to work best when the voice has a musical characteristic to it

voice in epic theatre

  • a combination of everyday and heightened speech is used
  • consonants and vowels need close attention with purposeful delivery
  • the everyday language needs to be spoken as colloquially as possible and seem to role off the tongue naturally
  • contrastingly, each word  of the lyrical and poetic speech sections should be relished with more attention to phrasing, tone and pitch
  • singspiel is often included where actors can approximate the pitch and almost half speak the sung words, rathe than use a polished or refined singing voice
  • dexterity is needed in changing between the spoken and sung  word
  • accents and dialects are often used, and needed to be clearly distinguishable, including differentiating characters of different classes

voice in musical theatre

  • a very wide range is needed to be able to access a composer’s pitches, thus actors should practise accessing and extending their range on an ongoing basis
  • vowels need to be sung in a free supported manner, connected with the breath system, so the actor can pitch accurately, project the voice without strain and totally colour the sound
  • ending consonants are used efficiently to manage the duration of the long sung notes
  • seamless transition from the spoke word to the sung word is required
  • in early musical theatre an actors sung voice may produce a more pure and open tonal quality then their spoken voice. In contemporary musical theatre the qualities of the sung voice need to be the same as the spoken voice.

Voice in contemporary presentational drama

  • actors need to clearly recognise and work with the voice demands of a play and a production
  • great voice dexterity is needed to be able to adapt accordingly
  • when working with Australian plays being able to neutralise or accentuate ones own accent is vital to meet the demands of the characters communication style and the directorial vision

Week 2


  • an actors body is the vehicle through which they can utilise movement techniques, fundamental to every role or character an actor will ever play

Facial expression

  • this is the outward display of the internal state of someone on their face.
  • Communicate feelings and thoughts, values, beliefs, dreams and desires


  • Posture refers to a way someone positions their body
  • Holding a physical frame including limbs and muscles


  • Gesture covers the use of our arms (and sometimes legs) to communicate ideas to the audience.
  • Adaptive: these are unintentional physicalisations that occur either in reaction to something or because of habit.
  • Affective: making hand or body movements that are connected to emotion and reveal uncurious feelings or objectives.
  • Deictic: Indicating or pointing to particular thing with the body
  • Emblematic: physicalisations that are considered common knowledge by the communications and can be easily used to replace speech
  • Emphatic: delivering strong decisive gestures that replace physical and vocal energy which seem to pop up as the gesture is completed at the same time the keyword of the messages spoken
  • Iconic: interacting with the space around the speaker to help support what they are saying
  • Metaphoric: using the hands or other body part to recreate the shape of objects being spoken about in order to make that shape more concrete


  • The way in which overall character walks of moves through space is their gait. characters tend to have a pattern rhythm or sequence to their gait
  • For example they might take quick steps only one foot lengths apart or they might might take a long stride with the left leg to put more pressure on the left foot when it lands on the floor


  • Physical weight is concerned with the mattered that makes up the character’s body how much the bones, muscles, fatty tissue and so on
  • Weight in relations to the size of that occupy there are two different focuses for actors to think about when exploring the weight of the role or characters movement physical weight, internal impact of that physical weight


  • Without this element there cannot be any movement as actors are continuously moving through space during performance even when they’re standing still their bodies and the way they physicalize are taking up some space


  • What pace is voice; time is for movement the rate of speed at which an actors moves and the duration of movement


  • Energy is the internal sense of vitality and vibrancy that an actor experiences which will fill the role of characters thoughts and external movement


  • Refers to the distance between two roles or characters and the instinctive feelings or thoughts that these individuals experience with the other  at that particular point in time due to the space between them

Spatial awareness



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