If you’ve ever wondered what exactly the Ivana Chubbuck acting method involves, here’s a brief breakdown of the 12-Step Technique and how it can be used to prepare a scene or entire script.
#1 Overall Objective
“An actor must learn to use emotions, not as an end result, but as a tool to provide the passion to overcome the conflict of the script”
The Overall Objective, refers to what your character wants over the course of the entire script. It gives the script a beginning, middle and an end. All the tools to follow should serve and be in support of the overall objective.
‘To find love’
‘To get power’
‘To have a great career’
Whilst there are no right or wrong objectives here, make sure it’s something that ignites a drive or passion in you, and propels you into every scene. Choosing something more passive like, ‘Enjoy this holiday’ – probably won’t bring about many exciting choices for you to play. That being said, during your rehearsals try out a variety of different overall objectives, and find what feels instinctually right.
#2 Scene Objective
“You have to change the other person to ultimately get what you want”
The Scene Objective refers to what your character wants over the course of one particular scene. It cannot negate your overall objective – often it will tie into, or refer back to your overall objective. It should be specific, and informed by the dialogue and activity of the particular scene you’re breaking down.
‘To get you to love me’
‘To get you to give me hope’
‘To get you to worship me’
“Winning is only satisfying when there is a possibility of failure. The possibility of failure emanates from obstacles”
Obstacles are the mental, emotional and even physical hurdles that stand in your character’s way, and make it difficult to achieve their objectives (scene and overall)
Obstacles can be internal or external, imagined or real. This could be anything from the weather being too cold, or too hot which makes it hard for you to focus, or could be another character cutting you off or interjecting, or it could be an injury that’s impeding you. Make notes on all the obstacles your character is facing in the scene, and think about how they might inform some choices about your performance.
“It’s important to use real people in your acting work because you don’t know how you’ll really behave in front of a person when there’s a lot at risk. You think you do, but you don’t.”
You’ve probably heard of this one before, and you’ll either love it, or it may not work for you. That’s okay – I encourage you to give it a go regardless.
Substitution is the process of endowing the other actor in the scene with characteristics of a person from your real life. Ideally this person best expresses the need in your scene objective – this will really connect you to the other actor you’re working with, and ground your performance in truth. This is a great tool for when you need emotional history between yourself and another character in a scene. Sometimes there isn’t a person in your life who matches up with your scene objective, and that’s okay. Perhaps this particular scene you won’t end up using the substitution technique. Try using something else instead.
#5 Inner Objects
“When we listen, we don’t try to imagine another person’s life, we relate everything we hear to our own world”
Inner Objects are the mental pictures in your head that you see when talking or hearing about a person, place, thing or event. These images can also be based on your Substitution.
This is something a lot of actors overlook – often your character will mention other people, places, things and events – which are entirely made up. And that’s how it comes across. So we need to endow those people, places, things and events – for it to become truthful and connected during performance. It could be as simple as using an image of your actual dog in real life, when talking about your character’s dog. Or using your real life 25th birthday party, in place of your character’s wedding. It’s also good to relate these to your substitution, if using, and your Scene Objective – to tie everything in.
#6 Beats and Actions
“Ask yourself, “What do I want to win (Scene Objective)? And how is the best, most effective way (both verbally and behaviourally) to achieve it (Beats and Actions)?”
You may be familiar with beats and actions already, and there’s a myriad of ways to use them when breaking down a script.
Beats are the different chunks of a scene in which your character pursues a particular tactic in order to achieve your scene objective.
And Actions are like mini objectives, the aforementioned tactics within in a beat, you use to achieve your scene objective.
Sometimes it’s easy to identify where a beat should begin and end in a scene, and at other times – not so much. I encourage you to grab a pencil, and try out multiple versions of breaking down a scene in beats. Get up on the floor, and test it out. Your director will help you with this too.
Within a beat, you might employ Actions such as “woo her” , “intimidate her” , “appeal to her”, “impress her” – as part of your overall objective to ‘get her to love me’.
#7 Moment Before
“A scene doesn’t begin where it begins in a script. There is an assumed or implied event that has occurred to motivate the text.”
The Moment Before is what you will visualise before the beginning of a scene or take which will give you a place to come from (emotionally and physically.) It should be tied to your substitution, and help to ramp up your need to win your scene objective.
It’s a great tool to help launch you into a scene, especially if you’re shooting a film or tv series, where you might be on a soundstage, with 45 crew members and you’re waiting around for 1 hour before they finally call ‘action!’ and you’ve got about 18 seconds to get it together.
It’s up to you what the moment before should entail – it could be a real event from your life with your substitution, or it could be an imaginary event with your substitution. It could involve imagining words they’ve just said, or a place you’ve just come from or a phone call even. It should be something that gives you emotional charge, and plunges you into the scene from a grounded and connected place. As opposed to warming into it half way through the scene.
“Place/Fourth Wall infuses the history of your work, making it not only the event of the script real but where it is happening real, too. It acclimates you.”
Another endowing technique – where you endow the stage, set, audition room, camera or rehearsal space with characteristics of a place from your real life. This should heighten your need to win your scene objective, and also be based on your substitution. It also creates a sense of privacy, history and intimacy. This can be a very powerful tool for connecting you to your objective, and the other actor – it requires an open mind and healthy imagination!
“Words can lie. Behaviour always tells the truth”
Doings refer to the handling of props to produce behaviour. Doings are essential – they create a sense of unpredictability, and it tells us more about the who-am-I of a character. This doesn’t mean randomly adding doings into every script you pick up, you must honour the text and if there are specific Doings already laid out by the writer – follow them. But there’s no reason why you can’t make it your own. How are you going to pick up that cup? Will you drink straight away? Is it hot? Will you have to blow on it first, and then take a ginger sip? Do you not want to drink, but like the comfort of holding the cup anyway? Whatever you decide, ensure your Doings further your scene objective.
#10 Inner Monologue
“Inner Monologue provides information that the actual dialogue does not – helping you earn the right of future events in the script, which is not often in the written word because it would reveal too much too soon”
Inner Monologue refers to the thoughts you think in your head that you don’t say aloud. These should also be based on your Substitution, and serve the Scene Objective. On your script, mark all the thoughts your character might be having when you are speaking, or when another character is speaking to you. It gives you something to say when there is no dialogue, and can give purpose to moments that might otherwise seem insignificant.
#11 Previous Circumstances
“Your past constructs your present and future, thereby making you a three-dimensional human being.”
Previous Circumstances are the character’s history that makes them who they are today. It is the accumulation of past events that has lead them to this current moment – doing this work is invaluable for informing your Overall Objective and Scene Objective, and help you to get in character by understanding where they’ve come from. Why do they make the choices they make? Why do they say the things they say? Why do they tell the truth, lie or avoid? You can write this out however you like – in first person as a diary, or as a biography of your character from third person.
#12 Let It Go
“Stay open, take risks and work hard.”
Trust all the work you’ve done with the other eleven tools and just let it go. Don’t think about the work or try to remember all the choices you’ve made and all the notes on your script. Simply trust all the information is there and trust that your rehearsal and preparation will allow your feelings and needs to organically come to the surface. Don’t be lazy – there is no such thing as too much rehearsal!
I know. A lot of imagination work here. It’s important to stay in touch with your playful, childlike side – where your imagination lives and thrives. All of these tools are beautiful explained in more depth in Ivana Chubbuck’s book – ‘The Power of the Actor’.