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A Roadmap to Behavior

Step two looking at acting scripts, focusing on behaviour and the how.
You will probably have found out quite a lot about the scene– –by just letting the text happen in relation to your objective– –the relationship and the behavior of your scene partner. Now, to take this one step further– –you can start making a few choices– –about how you’re going to be doing whatever it is that you’re doing.
A good way to think about this is in terms of active verbs. So, what is an active verb? Well, for our purposes I by this mean a clear action– –that involves doing something to someone– –with the purpose of affecting them in some way. As you read the text you will probably get some indications– –and ideas about how your character is behaving. Try to narrow these ideas down to an active verb. Are you for instance trying to seduce, to excite– –to shut up, to scare off, to comfort or to beg? All of these are things you can do to someone– –with the intent of affecting them in some way. And doing this will in turn produce behavior in you.
It’s a gift that keeps on giving. The active verb is not the same as the objective. The objective is about what you want. This is about your behaviour. And your behaviour might also change over the course of the scene. So let’s say my objective is that I want you to take me seriously. How I go about that might vary from to scare, to comfort, to appeal or to amaze. There are any number of possibilities– –and each one will make you approach your objective in a different way. The objective is the same but your behavior changes.
Just to be clear: examples of verbs that are not so active could be– –to talk, to discuss, to tell, to suggest, to be, to want, to think, to assess. Do you see how these choices don’t have a clear intention towards another person– –and how they therefore won’t produce any specific behavior in you? I also want to stress that finding an active verb to set you off in a certain direction– –is different from deciding how you’re going to say your lines. Using active verbs, your focus is still on the other person. On truthfully answering whatever is happening in the moment.
The active verb is just another piece of the puzzle– –that makes your point of view clearer, the stakes higher– –and the game more interesting.

In this video Johan talks about using the text in the way that Meisner described as a roadmap to behavior.

When reading the script, you will get ideas about how your character is behaving. Try to express these ideas as active verbs. An active verb is a clear action that involves doing something to someone with the purpose of affecting them in some way.

Thinking in terms of active verbs is different from deciding how you’re going to say your lines. Since how we’re behaving is connected to the change we want to affect in the other person, our focus is still on them, and we’re still responding to whatever they’re doing in the moment.

Share your thoughts and experiences finding active verbs in the comments section below, and learn from your fellow students.
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Introduction to Acting

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