You Have To Start Before The Beginning

Acting: creating an active thought process that ignites an emotion that provokes a behavior. 

Every scene you’ll ever play, even if it’s the opening scene of a movie or Act One, Scene One of a play, has a series of events that set it in motion; a Moment Before. The same is true for the characters we play. They have to have a history. They can’t simply appear. In order for our characters to be real, they have to be coming from somewhere. They have to have a life. The purpose of the Moment Before is to create that life, that reality.

The Moment Before – is what happens right before the scripted scene begins and it must be carefully crafted. The technique we use breaks the Moment Before into four parts: Scenario, Positive Expectations, Negative Expectations, and Danger.

The Scenario. The Scenario should contain a sentence or two to remind you of the how’s and why’s of your character’s present situation plus a sentence or two to set up what is about to happen.

In a previous scene you asked Gina to marry you, she said yes, and in the upcoming scene you’re going to ask her parents’ permission. Also, in earlier scenes, Gina’s father has made it very clear he doesn’t like you. He doesn’t think you have enough ambition to provide a good life for his daughter.

The Scenario is you, upstairs, getting ready. You’ve figured out what you’re going to say to Gina’s father. You’re shaving, rehearsing your responses to his objections in the bathroom mirror. The doorbell rings. You wipe your face, put on a fresh shirt and rush downstairs to open the door.

The Scenario doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. But it is surprising how many actors don’t even do something that simple. They plunge in without bringing any history to the scene.

Positive Expectations. This is how you hope the scene will play out. Gina’s parents will be receptive to what you have to say, they’ll give you their blessing and you and Gina will live happily ever after. You’re hopeful, even excited (joy).

Negative Expectations. These are the bad things that could happen in the scripted scene. Not the absolute worst but the bad things. Gina’s parents will say no, her father won’t listen to what you have to say. You’re nervous, anxious (confusion).

Danger. This is the most crucial part of the Moment Before. The Danger is the very worst thing that could happen. We want to know what the worst thing is because we want to maximize the conflict in the scene. Conflict is the component that propels storytelling. Danger not only puts your character in peril it also makes the story worth telling. The parents say no, Gina’s father drags her out of the house and forbids you to ever see her again. You’re afraid (fear).

Now, before the scene even starts your character is not only excited and hopeful, he’s also nervous, and he’s afraid. Probably just how you would feel if you were in his circumstances.

This is the power of a well-crafted Moment Before. We get a character that’s fully engaged, emotionally charged and involved in an active thought process before the scene even begins. What more could we ask of an actor who has yet to deliver a line?

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One Response to You Have To Start Before The Beginning

  1. Kate Whitney says:

    I think the breakdown of The Moment Before into these 4 parts is terrific!
    Living in this fully experienced preparation would result in a powerful first moment!

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