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Training someone to become an effective actor (Part one)

Training actors to become effective actors requires experience. You need to understand not only how to build technique, but also how to teach theatre etiquette. It is one thing to be a great actor, however it is just as important to be a good team member and work together with others to tell a story effectively. Before being able to learn techniques and how to improve the quality of acting, you need to know what areas you need to build.

So, let's break down the two processes.



Acting technique is the process or method of developing and delivering a role, using a variety of selected emotional and physical responses (actions vs. reactions). There are a variety of ways to develop a character, presence or role, which includes, but not limited to, the Stanislavski method (unpacking), Method acting (becoming), Meisner method (instinctual), and Chekhov Technique (internal becomes physicality).


The most common method used today in NZ Education is the Stanislavski method, which was developed from Konstantin Stanislavski (Stanislavsky). The idea of this method is to develop a connection and understanding of the character you will be portraying. You are to unpack the role and understand the driving forces, purposes, and the who-what-when-where-and-why's of the role, and how they will overcome their restrictions or conflicts within the story.

We tend to use The Stanislavski method more favourably in NZ Education because this method helps the learner understand how the process of developing a role occurs and why they are purposefully selecting elements, techniques, conventions and technologies to develop their performance(s).


You can use the Drama elements to tell your story and influence your acting techniques such as time, space, symbol, mood, setting, place, and/or contrast. You can also be driven by a purpose, a goal, a situation, a restriction, a conflict, a decision and/or a theme.

With influence from Stanislavski's methods, the actor will develop an understanding the storyline's skeleton and gain an understanding of the character's background They will also understand and portray the playwright and/or director's intentions and how they would like to impact, inform or entertain the audience.


You can use Drama techniques to develop your role which include voice, body, movement and space (proximity).

The ways in which you develop this process and select and then apply energy to your drama techniques will determine how the audience will respond to the story.

Energy is specifically important in terms of tones. If you apply overexaggerated techniques it can either cause the audience to think lightly of the situation or it can spark interest in a comedic/entertainment sense. If you do not apply energy, the audience may not learn how your character responds to a situation. They may not be able to hear you or see facial expressions, so without the energy and the ability to show how your character responds to situations, the audience may not be able to connect with your role and appreciate the story.


You can use Drama conventions to influence your role such as chorus of movement, chorus of voice, dance, voices in your head, mime, hot seating and/or spoken thought.

Being able to use conventions allows a creative way to communicate an idea that is layered in a way that differs from the normal scene.


You can use technologies to influence your role such as lighting, costume, makeup, props, sound and/or stage set. Although technologies are not particularly a driving force to use to communicate a storyline or character, they are definitely used to complement what is established by the director, actor and/or playwright.


There are a variety of different ways to apply acting techniques as well.

MEDIA: You can act in front of digital technologies:

  • silver screen: Netflix, DisneyPlus, TV series, soap operas, reality shows, competitions / Game shows, Documentaries / interviews

  • movies: Blockbusters, Netflix, DisneyPlus

  • radio: AM/FM stations, podcasts

  • social media: TikTok, Snapchat, Vines, Instagram, Youtube, Live feeds, Facebook stories

The way in which you act will be dependent on camera angles and other technology components to complement the character and the storyline. Editing can enhance these aspects.

LIVE THEATRE: You can act in front of a live audience:

  • improvisation

  • stand up

  • production / play / musical

  • promenade / site specific

  • variety show / competition

  • mascot / interactive theatre / undercover acting / roleplay / street actor

The way in which you act will be dependent on the audience's response and how you work with your cast. There are also elements within theatre etiquette that are important to develop which wouldn't apply in media (as editing cannot happen in these live circumstances).

THEATRE ETIQUETTE can also learn a lot from your fellow actors and stage management crew. You all can provide experience, ideas and skillsets that differ from each other and can be valuable for anyone involved. Growing together and opening your mind to learning will continue to build on the quality of your acting skills.

What is theatre etiquette?

Briefly, it is how you should behave during the production process when you are either a member of the cast, the director or part of the stage management crew.

- Share the stage / don't steal the limelight

A fun fact about the idea of "stealing the limelight" derives from the ability to burn lime. When doing so, it creates a strong light. Back in the Victorian era, lighthouses would burn lime to help ships find the port/dock. This was before electricity was used. So, the idea of taking someone's limelight would imply stealing someone's moment to shine brightly.

Coming from experience, I've noticed stealing someone's limelight occurs more specifically in comedies. A main character can sometimes overshadow a minor role and here we end up losing the minor character's purpose to drive the storyline on, especially when we have comic relief characters that are designed specifically to relieve or lighten tension / reset the emotions within the audience. Furthermore, if the minor roles are overshadowed, then their purpose is gone and their placement in the story may be misunderstood.

It is important that regardless of experience or skill, that you know when your moments are to shine and when other cast member's moments are to shine. If acting is performed the way children playing is with their knowledge of a great sharing system, then it will be more enjoyable for all participants (including the audience). This also includes my next point, helping each other to shine.

- Help other members, don't let them fall

As a director, I tend to have a rehearsal or two based purely on if someone forgets their lines and what to do to recover the scene. Inexperienced actors tend to let the storyline sit at a standstill rather than try to keep the momentum rolling. If you teach actors to recover the play, then no-one looks out of place and the mishap isn't noticeable. When teaching this skill, I tend to get the other actors to prompt using questioning such as:

If the line is, "It is cold outside, but I left my jacket at home", then I'd teach other actors to come up with sentences such as, "what's the weather like outside?" "Did you bring a jacket?" or something to that affect. If not, try and move on with the script without that specific line.

Working together is so vital in these situations.

- Team player (learn together, teach each other, experience together)

Being a team member on stage is important. Acting is fun and performing is both stimulating and a challenging experience. sharing experiences with kindred spirits allows you to build a success acting relationship with them, and in turn, makes the experience more meaningful.

There's so much you can learn from your director, but you can also learn a lot from your fellow actors and stage management crew. You all can provide experience, ideas and skillsets that differ from each other and can be valuable for anyone involved. Growing together and opening your mind to learning will continue to build on the quality of your acting skills.

Absorb other's abilities, ideas, and strategies - and always be open to trial and error.

- Experiment and don't always go with your first decision

Devising and rehearsal are important stages of developing a production. It is important to try different variations of line delivery, stage directions and Drama techniques. You'll be surprised how complex a character can be with further development. I always try to get my learners to try using different body parts to drive movement, a different muscle on their face to apply energy when they talk, and play with tones, pitch, volume and pace to convey emotions. For example, showing the bottom row of your teeth when you are vulnerable, whispering when you are conveying anger, lifting one shoulder, tensing your eyebrows when you widen your eyes.

- Know your character's intentions, background and purpose

Acting is a process of trial and error, and it is so important to spend time developing a role. The more we know about our characters, the more lifelike they can appear.

Acting is a process of trial and error, and it is so important to spend time developing a role. The more we know about our characters, the more lifelike they can appear. So not only is it important to experiment with the way in which we talk and move, but also having an awareness of why you react, when to react, and what you specifically react to in a certain way will make your role more effective and believable. For instance, being angry on two separate circumstances doesn't have the same outcome/way you respond. When bullied, a vulnerable anger can be portrayed more internally, and a courageous anger defending someone could be portrayed more externally.

This ties in well with the next point, having audience awareness while performing.

- Respectful to your audience: audience awareness and audience interaction

Being aware of how the audience reacts to you can elevate your performance. If you are in a position where the director doesn't mind you adding to your performance occasionally, such as adding in minor comedic jokes or spendng slightly longer in dramatic silence to draw out suspense or empathy from the audience can make your performance more effective. Sometimes if you are daring, you can use a fourth wall break to add another dynamic of comedy or intensity. I used to find myself occasionally looking right at someone to gain a deeper reaction from them, when I would perform. Losing the fear of connecting with your audience can really enhance a performance. It is wonderful in theatre forms such as Pantomime and Commedia del 'Arte, however such a bold risk in drama - which I love!

- Be trustworthy, commit/see through the whole experience, and dependable (punctual, attend rehearsals)

It is important to see a full performance through. If you sign up, commit and go along to every rehearsal and performance that has been finalised. Even as a small role, you are a vital member of the cast and there will be times when you are needed, and times when you aren't. It is also important as a director to plan times when the minor roles don't need to be at rehearsal. I don't think it is good etiquette to make your cast wait around if they aren't needed there. It also feels like a chore to be there. if you find yourself waiting more than actually acting. You don't want your actors to lose their passion for the performance either.

Not turning up means whoever is there has to continue no matter what and that is unfair for them. It can also in turn make them look unorganised, when they have placed effort into their performance.

- Thank everyone at the end

Assumingly, you've all worked hard and at the end, you all deserve acknowledgement for your efforts. At the end of a performance bow, applaud for the cast, applaud for the stage management/music/sound booth, and applaud for the director. Give a final bow and when you leave the stage congratulate each other and bask in the excitement backstage before getting dressed and seeing your support that came to watch.

When you finish, after the final performance, a nice bouquet of flowers and a cast signed card is great to give the director for their efforts. Make sure to help with the cleanup removing as much of the set, props and rubbish from the greenroom that you can. If you don't help, then someone else has the arduous task of doing it on their own.

There are many other areas to discuss, but I will leave that for part 2. I hope you learned something or remembered something important about your own practice.

Time, experience, manaakitanga.

Tovah O'Neill


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