When it comes to learning the craft of acting, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, what works for one performer may not be helpful for another. Here are three famous acting techniques thespians can use to connect with their characters more deeply, be fully present on set or stage, and genuinely engage with their scene partners.


Sense Memory


Sense Memory is an acting approach in which an actor recalls physical sensations (a sound, sight, taste, smell, or touch) associated with a real, personal, emotional memory while preparing for a role. Rather than “acting out” emotions, this process allows actors to personalize their performance and be more present and engaged in a scene. 


By using the technique, actors no longer root their performance in fantasy because what they are experiencing is real to them. Brian Timoney at the British Film Institute explains how this approach can be used, for example, when an actor is asked to cry. Timoney says, “I want you to think about a time when you were very unhappy. And you start to think about that and you start to visualize it. And you start to see it in your mind’s eye. You start to smell the smells that happened at that point. And you start to remember the things that you touched.” Maybe you recall certain sounds or a song associated with this memory. Timoney insists this technique is a skill that requires training for it to be reliable.




In any given scene, a character has an objective; that is, something he or she wants or needs in that scene. In fact, every character in every script is seeking something. Sometimes a script clearly communicates a character’s objective, while other times, an actor will need to make a creative choice about what the character wants to get in the scene. Whatever objective is chosen, it must support the story overall; that is to say if an objective comes out of left field, a performer risks losing the cohesion of the storyline, if not the audience. Acting teacher Kimberly Jentzen explains the importance of objectives this way:


“If the audience does not know what the character wants within the first ten minutes of the film or pilot or TV show or theater piece, they lose interest because they want to get on board with somebody; they want to feel like, ‘Hey, I can root for this man, I can root for this woman because they want something, and I can relate to what they want.’ So that’s how important the objective is.” 


Read the Scene Twice


Jentzen encourages actors to start their preparation by reading the scene twice to understand what is happening in it. The character often starts with one emotional state or level and, by the end of the scene, is in a different emotional state. Jentzen insists the key to finding the objective is to “Read the end.” How has the character’s emotion changed by the end of the scene or script? Most importantly, she says, “Ask yourself, ‘Are you happy or are you less than happy at the end of the scene?’ … If you’re less than ecstatic or happy, then there’s something that you didn’t get. What is it? That would be your objective. If you’re really, really happy, you got something; that’s your objective.”


Emotional Preparation


Meisner described acting as “Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Jessica Houde is a teacher of the Meisner Technique at the Houde School of Acting, and she explains how Emotional Preparation helps actors create a fantasy life to be more present and fully engaged while performing. 


When preparing for a highly charged scene, Meisner was concerned about actors relying too heavily on emotional recall. He didn’t like the idea that a performer would need to relive intense, perhaps traumatic events from their childhoods or teen years to be able to be “emotionally alive” in a scene. Instead, he believed in the power of private, fully lived daydreams for emotional preparation. “Every day we daydream, especially artists. So why not use that for your emotional preparation?” Houde explains. But this technique is best used to prepare for a scene’s very first moments, say, when an actor needs to start a scene in a highly emotional state. From that point on, all action and reaction is to emerge organically based on what other actors in the scene are saying and doing.


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