To honor the writer’s intent, an actor will analyze the writer’s script by first identifying the circumstances, or the facts, of the story. If the circumstances are not given directly by the writer, the actor can infer the circumstances based on what is given. Sometimes, however, little information is offered to the actor so he or she will rely on his or her imagination to boldly conjure up the answers to the following circumstantial questions:
What is going on? What is the event? An event could be an employee asking his boss for a raise; a doctor informing her patient that he has cancer; a young man begging his girlfriend to stay with him. Or it could be something as simple as a father reading a bedtime story to his sleepy son.
Who am I? What’s my age? My vocation? My socioeconomic level? My level of education? And another important consideration is – what is the nature of my relationship with the other character in the scene? Are we married, newlyweds, or have we been married for 20 years and the passion has withered away? Are we old friends whom we trust with our lives? Or are we old friends who now strongly dislike each other? Are we mortal enemies? Loving or estranged family members? Cordial or competitive co-workers? A falsely accused (or guilty) criminal being interrogated by a sadistic (or fair) detective?
Where is it happening? The location of a scene is an often overlooked, but an extremely important and informative circumstance. People behave in certain ways depending upon where they are. A man will whisper in a church, but yell at a football game. A woman will tap her feet, shift her weight and sigh audibly while impatiently waiting in line at Starbucks, but sit frozenly on the medical exam table, holding her breath, as she anxiously awaits the doctor’s return to reveal her prognosis. A teenager will move cautiously in a dark alley but in a more relaxed and unselfconscious way in his bedroom.
When is it happening? The “when” takes into account the year, the season, the month and the time of day. Imagine your character is in a bar at 11 am. How would his behavior change in that same bar at 2am? (Also taking into account his level of inebriation.) What century is it? Does your character live in the future? Is your character coming in from a winter storm? How would that affect her behavior?
Circumstances have a powerful influence on the behavior of a character. Often a character’s behavior is more interesting (and even more revealing of their true motives) to watch than the text he or she is saying. At an audition, when an actor makes the delivery of the words the top priority, he or she will be making “safe” (and often unconscious) choices and likely their performance will be unmemorable.