of Rehearsal Room Process
(devised by Richard Sarell)
notes have been up-dated because of the significant changes that have
emerged since the last up-date two years ago. These additions bring exciting
new elements to the process.
Higginson has started teaching Introductory Workshops at the
Rehearsal Room and he recently explained to a group that to be effective
an acting process has to be relevant to its time. Many well established
and respected acting processes were created decades ago and, as they are
taught now remain stuck in an historical past. The Rehearsal Room is different.
It is an organic process that is constantly in development. It grows because
of the interactive nature of the workshop sessions where there is a constant
flow of ideas within the group. The on-going Rehearsal Room aim is to
find simple, clear and functional ways to make our acting process more
interactive, efficient and real.
principles explored in current Rehearsal Room workshops are as follows…
The actor in the view of The Rehearsal Room has two main tasks -
The first one is to ‘tell the story’
– this is the reason the production is happening in the first
• The second task for the actor is ‘to
If the story is clearly identified or labelled then generally the performance
will unfold in a way that allows the story to be clearly told. The value
of ‘simple’ and ‘active’ labelling is the wonderful
and functional gift that Constantine Stanislavski gave the acting world.
It is an enormously powerful tool that is often misunderstood and frequently
over complicated. When identifying the story content of a scene the main
elements to identify are …
• the beginning,
• the middle
• and the end.
• and outcome.
occasions a fourth element is present
– the turning point. The
story structure will then unfold as - beginning, middle, turning point
A turning point is the moment when a clear change in direction of the
conversation occurs. Under these circumstances there will now be a new
reason driving the conversation. If the story or conversation doesn’t
head in a new direction it isn’t a turning point.
Remember, when it comes to identifying the story of a scene that the real
story is always about ‘what transpires between the characters
in the scene’. Sometimes, perhaps often, this has little
to do with what is being said.
The dialogue itself may not be what the story is about. The
dialogue is mostly just the content of the conversation.
RR DEFINITION: ‘The
STORY is what folds between the characters in the scene while they
are saying the dialogue’.
is also true that often the story of the scene only has
a little to do with what has happened to characters in the past, or what
might happen to them in the future. It is mostly about what is happening
to them now.
important part of The Rehearsal Room process is to identify the story.
One important value of clearly identifying the essence of the
‘text’ is that the actor can then be clear about choices for
the ‘sub-text’. Here again there is much confusion in the
acting world about what the definition of sub-text and text should be.
DEFINITION: The Rehearsal Room definition of text is – 'the
dialogue the character HAS to say, the stage directions/big print
the character HAS to do and the story the actor has defined'. (Sometimes,
some of the dialogue & stage directions won’t be essential
to the story. They therefore won’t have to be said or done.)
Room classes constantly demonstrate
that clear, simple and active labels of story consistently produce believable
performances. Vague labels produce erratic performances and confusing
Simple Approach to STORY
Actors, as a group, are not great at identifying story. Actors are particularly
aware of intuitive impulses and therefore they easily perceive the wondrous
complexities of a scene rather than the over-riding simplicity. Both elements
co-exist in a scene but too much pre-occupation with the wondrous complexities
of life tend to generate fuzzy, complicated story descriptions that are
not inaccurate descriptions but are exceedingly hard to translate into
performance. Putting effort into simple story definitions is very worthwhile.
Rehearsal Room actors who become competent at this procedure make instant
quantum leaps forward in their performance capabilities.
of a Conversation
The first thing to consider is that most scenes are a conversation. Conversations
have a number of identifiable and simple ingredients. For example, every
conversation has an ‘instigator’. A conversation is always
started by someone and they start it for a reason. That reason is what
drives the conversation forward until they –
their desired goal or
they can’t achieve that goal or
up on achieving that goal for the moment.
When one of the above points is reached then the conversation ends.
way of thinking about how a conversation ends is that it will result in
either be a ‘win’,
a ‘lose’ or a ‘draw’. This is an overly
simplistic way of labelling endings but it is a
very useful starting point.
years The Rehearsal Room has continually explored ways of illuminating
the reason that drives a conversation. This exploration has evolved into
a very simple formula. It has become plain that there are in fact only
three reasons that drive conversations.
In pursuing a conversation the instigator is working on one of three broad
processes. They will be pursuing either a –
a battle for control
• a challenge or
• a test.
exploring this concept at The Rehearsal Room we guessed this proposition
had about an 80% success rate. However,
after working with this formula for some time we now believe it is much
more effective than that. It is another
very useful tool.
be too simple?
simplicity of this idea has proved to be its strength. It is not an over
simplification. It is in fact extremely versatile and can produce enormously
complex outcomes. The versatility is derived once you add the extra ingredient
of asking what issue the conversation process is exploring. Once the actor
starts considering that the story could be –
- a battle
for control about ….?
- a battle
for control over ….?
- a test
- a test
to find out…
- a challenge
over … etc
then a vast
array of options becomes available even though the path to reveal them
is a simple one. This simple process empowers actors to effectively understand
the real story issues of a scene very quickly.
thing is absolutely clear
- simple story definitions produce strong performances
and complex characters.
(which emerged from a problem solving session with actor Paul Cousins
and is known as the ‘Paul Cousins Contribution’) is proving
a very simple tool and it delivers very effective outcomes. It takes the
mystery and uncertainty out of the process and allows actors to quickly
get on with rehearsal. It is also enormously effective in the audition
room when decisions have to be made really quickly.
is only half the formula.
If a conversation always has an ‘instigator’ then it also
must have a ‘responder’ or
a ‘reactor’. The conversation
begins when the instigator sets out to achieve their ‘conversation
goal’. The middle of the conversation commences as soon as the ‘responder’
responds. Thereafter these two components continue competing until the
conversation reaches its end.
If the instigator
is pursuing one of the above options (challenge, test or battle for control)
then there are only two options for the responding character. They will
either be –
the same thing back (i.e. contesting the challenge,
test or battle for control) OR
will be resisting, avoiding or denying
the challenge, test or battle for control.
again, because it looks a little more complicated on the page than it
actually is. There are in fact only two options – to do the same
thing back OR resist, avoid or deny. (This short cut
is named the "Kirsty Lee Principle" after the actor who discovered
it.) This is also simple and remarkably effective.
an instigator and responder and the conversation path they are following
is a very effective and productive way to identify the story content of
Initially, it might be confusing ascertaining the difference between the
three conversation categories of battle for control, test or challenge.
Try thinking of it like this.
1. If a
character is instigating a ‘TEST’
conversation it is because they DON’T KNOW SOMETHING AND THEREFORE
ARE TRYING TO FIND IT OUT.
2. If a character is instigating a ‘CHALLENGE’
conversation it is because they DO KNOW SOMETHING AND ARE TRYING TO IMPOSE
3. If a character is instigating a ‘BATTLE
FOR CONTROL’ conversation it DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER
THEY KNOW ANYTHING OR NOT – THEY JUST WANT TO WIN.
can be grouped together in a great variety of ways. For example,
might be testing you to see if it’s possible to mount a challenge.”
might be challenging you to test yourself.”
The vast majority of scenes can have any of these options applied
to them. The actor is ultimately in total control of the element that’s
driving the scene/conversation.
Once the text has been clearly identified it is possible to put in place
a sub-text that will contribute to the character’s
complexities while they experience the events of the story.
way that the Stanislavski approach to realism can be explained is this
actor always needs to be doing two things at once.”
things at once is tricky. The general outcome of such an activity
is that we tend to concentrate on one element more than another. The result
is that the one we are concentrating on appears to be the character’s
conscious thought processes and
the less active one appears to be the character’s unconscious
thought processes. It is the actor’s ability to ‘appear’
to be functioning on both a conscious and an unconscious level simultaneously
that makes the character look real. That is the fundamental trick
for creating ‘realism’ in performance.
An important instrument that drives active listening and generates a significant
proportion of intuitive impulses is the character’s ‘need’.
This ‘need’ replicates the unconscious
psychological desire of the character – it helps create the
image that the character has both a conscious and unconscious thought
processes. It is a foundation element of ‘realism’ in performance.
Other elements such as good levels of relaxation can help fake a performance
outcome that may look quite realistic but these sorts of devices have
all the attendant risks of any sort of cheating – i.e. a fairly
high chance of being unmasked.
of a psychological desire or unconscious mind for the character is a major
element in producing and controlling a complex and real character. (FOR
MORE ON BEING REAL CLICK HERE)
This labelling of the character’s unconscious desire is The
Rehearsal Room’s way of simplifying an often-confusing task.
“Need” is elsewhere labelled variously an “intention”,
an “action”, an “objective” or the “sub-text”
– but these labels are confusing because universally they don’t
succeed in keeping the elements of conscious and unconscious thought separate.
Actors who use these traditional labels constantly cross over between
conscious and unconscious thought processes without realizing they are
DEFINITION: “Need” in The Rehearsal Room context is hidden
Steps in the Process
The Rehearsal Room’s view of process, in simplistic
terms is … if the actor is actively listening and responding in
a complex way to the impulses generated by the events of the moment, then
the performance will be believable. (FOR MORE ON LISTENING CLICK HERE)
It is important to first identify
the story or text. If the actor doesn’t have a clear view of the
text how can they choose a sub-text that is separate from it? It is important
that the sub-text and text are different. If they are the same then the
actor won’t be doing two things at once.
an appropriate and functional method of labeling this ‘need’
is also an important part of The Rehearsal Room process. The
most functional labels are the ones that connect most directly to the
actor’s own unconscious perceptions. They are the ones that will
produce the greatest unconscious responses in the actor.
When selecting a ‘need’ for a character using Constantine
Stanislavski’s phrase “I wish to ………
you”, as a guide, is a good way of making sure that the choice
is active and simple. Simple choices are best as they are easy to implement.
Easy implementation invites a higher likelihood of a successful outcome.
‘need’ must be active
- there is no point in picking one if it is inactive, as it won’t
is a list of active verbs on The Rehearsal Room website. It is recommended
that actors stick to that list as they are highly active and function
easily in an unconscious/sub-conscious way.
HERE FOR A LIST OF ACTIVE LABELS)
When you have selected a need for your character the following check list
will provide guidance as to how functional that choice will be.
If the “need”
will be active
will be readable to the audience
to achieve ……
will be dramatic
Separate from the text ….
will generate complexity
for you ……
it will be playable.
is the fundamental tool that enables quick and effective choice of sub-text.
It is a uniquely simple identification of all the essential ingredients
of Stanislavski process.
be able to check the list quickly. An actor who can’t check out
these fundamental elements extremely rapidly will tend not to use this
checklist. Failing to use the checklist enormously increases the chance
of making an ineffective choice. It is therefore essential to learn this
and practice using it. For the practiced actor it takes about
10 seconds or less to check this list. It is only a very small
effort to significantly increase the chances of a very useful rehearsal
or successful performance.
We all desire to be good at what we do and this breeds a pursuit of perfection.
Experience at The Rehearsal Room and in life constantly demonstrates that
chasing perfection is a destructive waste of time. Being able to consistently
do the job is a much more worthwhile goal. An actor who can be consistently
good (i.e. do the job) will sometimes be brilliant. The actor who constantly
strives for brilliance will be terrible more often than they will be good.
forget about perfection and make competence our goal.
Guarantee of Success??
The Rehearsal Room checklist doesn’t guarantee an effective outcome
but it will significantly increase the possibility of one. A successful
outcome hinges on a good balance of acting process and rehearsal process.
Theory will never answer all the questions. That’s why rehearsal
is essential. The value of practical theory is that it –
• makes rehearsals efficient and effective;
• it makes change easy;
• it makes communication simple and clear
• it makes complexity of character and clarity of story readily
Rehearsal Room checklist works. Use it.
The essential concepts relating to “need” are …
“need” is something the actor “knows” rather
is not important that the
actor achieve fulfillment of the character’s “need”
but rather that the actor understands how much and why the character
wants to have this desire fulfilled. i.e. it is about “wanting”
and “needing” not achieving.
actor must be comfortable about giving himself/herself “permission”
to “own” the character’s “need”.
should always be focused on a person and not an object.
is many times more functional to have a “need” in place
for a character who is in the scene than it is to have a “need”
for someone who isn’t in the scene.
there is more than one other person in the scene then mostly it is
best to only have a “need” in place for one of the people
in the scene. This is obviously the most important person for your
character at this time. (THIS IS NOT ALWAYS THE PERSON WITH WHOM THE
CHARACTER IS CONVERSING)
have a “need” that is about you. It must always be for
“ownership” and “trust”
are important concepts for an actor to understand.
Out of these ingredients a well-placed confidence can emerge. “Confidence”
is also an important ingredient of performance.
It is obviously important that the sub-text verb be separate from the
text. This is one of the cornerstones of character complexity. For this
to be achievable it is essential that the first element an actor should
identify is the STORY. The story is what the director and the producer
have hired the actor to deliver. It is of primary importance. Never underestimate
the importance of the story.
step is to select a “NEED” for the character to carry while
they experience and deal with the events and difficulties generated by
Another foundation element of the performance process is the ability to
play “moments of surprise”. The
Rehearsal Room definition of surprise (based on Stanislavski’s wonderful
concepts) is –
surprise is anything that interrupts the character’s need”.
that “need” doesn't function while the surprise is happening.
A new “need” may result from experiencing a major surprise.
says that surprises have four phases –
- the event
- the identification
- the assessment
phase - is it 'good for me' or 'bad for me' (which is the moment of
fight or flight)
- and the
final phase, where the choice
to either return to the interrupted “need” is made (this
is the most likely of outcomes) or a new “need” is now required.
a surprise doesn’t have four phases it won’t be real.
Centre of Gravity
The Rehearsal Room believes that all moments of surprise are connected
in some instinctive way to our Centre of Gravity. Centre of Gravity should
be an inherent part of every moment of surprise.
are of GREAT VALUE for the story. They are also moments of great trust
for the actor and moments of great reward for the audience.
are generated by unexpected difficulties. Difficulty is the most active
ingredient that drives story forward. The more surprises in a scene the
more difficulties and therefore the more drama.
you are excited by a good dramatic scene it will mostly have a surprise
a line for the characters.
also come out of the character’s conscious expectations being interrupted.
Everything we do, whether it is action or conversation based has an expectation
attached to it – otherwise we wouldn’t do it. When that expectation
isn’t met in someway we are surprised.
In life the character doesn’t know what is going to happen next
so, they are constantly surprised. However, the actor is in possession
of a lot of information about what the future holds and this provides
a significant challenge for the actor. As soon as the actor knows what
is going to happen the first phase of the next surprise won’t exist.
The first phase is the moment where the character’s expectation
is interrupted and the loss of that interruption tends to reveal the actor
rather than the character. ‘Pre-knowledge’ or ‘anticipation’
is instant death to the believability of any moment of surprise.
The character’s “need” may be coloured in different
ways. The colour of a “need” often changes after a moment
colour is the way that the character is going about pursuing their
might be doing this “happily”, “gloomily”,
“sadly”, “intelligently”, “manipulatively”,
“dominantly”, “flirtatiously”, “energetically”,
“cheekily”, “playfully” etc. It is very
confusing if colours are labelled as verbs they are best labelled as an
adverb and some actors like using colours. The colour is also the way
the character wishes to be perceived by the world.
The Rehearsal Room calls ‘colour’ is much the same, would
be called an ‘action’ by Stanislavski purists. In their vocabulary
actions are the way you go about getting your intention or your objective.
In Rehearsal Room vocabulary it’s the way you pursue or go about
getting your ‘need’. But they are correct in that it is also
the way we pursue our conversation goals or the story. We show colours.
They are the conscious way we want to be perceived
by the world. Thus they are conscious choices and therefore they
can be referred to in the text. The writer may have indicated that your
character is angry or happy and so you can go about pursing your ‘need’
or your conversation angrily or happily.
The Stanislavski purists label actions as verbs and they sometimes will
have a different one on each line. This is too restrictive and a very
impractical approach. It gives the actor too much to remember. Labelling
them as adverbs (that’s the word that describes how we go about
a verb) or as colours is many times more productive. Keeping labels simple
and active leaves a large part of the actor’s conscious brain free
is the crucial skill that allows characters to freely interact in a believable
and spontaneous way.
These are the fundamentals of Rehearsal Room process. They have evolved
this way because of
- the many
years spent observing auditioning actor’s who can do a fantastic
job at using emotional memory and getting in touch with their feelings
BUT CAN’T DELIVER A BELIEVABLE STORY.
- The Rehearsal
Room process developed this way because of years of auditioning so many
actors who have done an enormous amount of preparation on the character’s
prehistory BUT COULDN’T CHANGE QUICKLY.
principles have become a priority because for so many actors careful
and intelligent preparation meant that they couldn’t possibly
OPENLY LISTEN OR PLAY TRUTHFUL SURPRISES BECAUSE THEY ALWAYS KNEW WHAT
THEY WERE GOING TO DO NEXT. SUCH AN APPROACH ALWAYS LOOKS LIKE ‘ACTING’.
actor Spencer Tracey’s advice to a
young actor was simply, “Never let them catch you acting.”
As soon as the audience detects any elements of ‘acting’,
believability evaporates. Perhaps the label of ‘actor’ is
misleading in itself. Maybe we should think of the task as
Room process is targeted at producing actors who –
themselves to listen openly all the time;
- who genuinely
don’t know the future and so always make real choices;
keep the audience on the edge of their seats because they consistently
play fantastic moments of surprise;
can take direction, make big changes and be instantly believable AND
always consistently deliver the story because that’s what they
have been hired to do.
COULD BE EXPLAINED IN EVEN MORE DETAIL AND THERE ARE OF COURSE OTHER IMPORTANT
INGREDIENTS. OBVIOUSLY THE CHARACTER’S LIFE EXPERIENCE WILL HAVE
A HUGE EFFECT ON ANY CHOICES THE CHARACTER WILL MAKE. SO, CREATING AN
ACTIVE PRE-HISTORY FOR A CHARACTER IS A VERY
NEED TO HAVE SOLID FOUNDATIONS TO THEIR PERFORMANCE PROCESS SO THAT
THEY CAN ADD EMBELLISHMENTS.
TOO OFTEN IT IS THE OTHER WAY ROUND – LOTS OF TRICKSY SUPERFICIALITIES
WHILE THE SOLID FOUNDATIONS OF A CLEAR STORY AND SIMPLE BELIEVABILITY
(WHICH ARE THE TRADEMARK OF THE PROFESSIONAL ACTOR) ARE MISSING.
REHEARSAL ROOM MASTER CLASSES OTHER ACTIVE PROCESSES ARE USED TO
ADD COMPLEXITY TO THESE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES. THESE TECHNIQUES
ARE ALL FOCUSED ON PRODUCING COMPLEX OUTCOMES EFFICIENTLY.
relax, trust and enjoy.
breeds confidence – confidence breeds trust – trust breeds
ownership – ownership allows the intuitive impulses to work freely.
Travel well and keep listening.
First published May 2003; updated January
07 and this version was added in April 2009.
Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2003.
All rights Reserved.
you are interested to see the changes,
CLICK here for the previous draft
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