Choosing the verbs is one thing; even if you struggle with it initially, you’ll find it easier the more you do it. It’s a big change in perspective from playing the emotions you find in adjectives and adverbs, but once you learn to stand in that other position, the verbs will start to come to you more naturally.
Actually PLAYING the verbs is a different challenge. It is very easy to give the verb lip-service, but fall back into the comfort zone of simply being angry, or whatever emotion seems to dominate the scene.
As with all new activities, you need to isolate it so that you can focus on it. So take the first beat of your scene or monologue, and work that beat all by itself, focusing strictly on the verb you have chosen for the beat. Don’t keep going into the next beat, just play the one beat till it ends and stop there. Since the next beat has a different verb, we want to keep it separate. Try to blend them before you’ve explored what each verb means, and you’ll muddy the waters.
All you want to do with each beat is to try to get what it is that you want. Forget everything else. If you want to persuade someone of something, then do your damnedest to persuade them. If you want to seduce your scene partner, do. Don’t worry about “being seductive”. Just try to get her to kiss you.
Repeat the beat as often as you need to until you are sure that you are as in touch with your need to persuade or seduce the other actor as you can possibly be. Then set that beat aside and move to the next one.
Rinse and repeat.
NOTE: Remember, as I noted in my post, “The Hardest Part of Acting” – it is very difficult to be sure that you are playing the verbs and doing this exercise properly without a teacher observing the work. I’m explaining the process we are working with in class, but it is only through classwork that you’ll really know when you are doing it correctly.
My own first experience of this process was that it was tedious. Boring. Not *FUN*! the way acting is “supposed” to be. Focusing all of my energy on what was going on in this one beat was incredibly unrewarding. My scene partner, who was also new to the process, felt similarly underwhelmed, but we were both committed to working the scene as we had been instructed. So we marked our beats and did the first one. Four times. We looked at each other and said, “What do you think?” “I don’t know. Shall we move to the next beat?” “Okay.”
We did the next beat four times. “All right with you?” “All right with me.” “Okay, let’s do the next beat.” And so on.
At the end of it, we looked at each other. “What do you think?” “I don’t know. Are we doing this right?” “I have no idea.”
Our next rehearsal, we put the scene together, but still focused intently on each beat’s requirements as we went through them. At the end of the night, we looked at each other. “What do you think? Are we ready?” “I have no idea. I mean, we’ve done what she asked, but I don’t know if it’s working.” “Well, let’s take it to class and have her tell us what we’ve missed.”
So we did. We played the scene as we’d rehearsed it, focusing on one line at a time, one beat at a time. It was as incredibly boring and ordinary as it had been in rehearsal.
But we rocked the house. That scene, because of the way we rehearsed it, remains some of the best acting I’ve ever done.
When you put your focus on what you want – that is, your verb – you put great power into what you’re doing. This enlivens the scene and makes your scene partner step up her game to meet what you’re doing. That focus clarifies for the audience what is going on and energizes everyone in the theater.
And a nice little side benefit you’ll get from this exercise is that it helps you to stay in the moment and not anticipate what is coming next!
See Playing the Verbs Part II here. See Playing the Verbs Part III here. See Why Playing the Emotions Doesn’t Work here. See Why Playing the Verbs is (Ultimately) Easier than Acting Emotions here. See Choosing Verbs here. See Big Verbs vs. Little Verbs here.