Looking for something to improve your acting skills? Searching for something you can do with your peers/friends? Crossing all your fingers and toes that it’s cheap-to-free? Well you are in luck, because today we are going to talk about the benefits of scene study for actors.
Scene study is the reading and analysis of monologues or scenes, for express purpose of improving one’s skills by expanding knowledge and repertoire. The benefits of scene study for actors are numerous, as it can be performed almost anywhere and exercise much of an actor’s toolkit for free.
Of course, you will engage in scene study for the purpose of auditions or rehearsals. Even on a film set, the way you interact with your co-stars and directors will more or less follow the same approach. But there is much to be said for doing scene study in your home, alone or with friends (ideally with friends), for the pure joy of acting and the getting of wisdom. With no set goal or time limit in mind, you can really focus on the text and make some compelling discoveries.
How to Run a Scene Study
It’s simple! Round up some actors you know, agree on a play or similar text, coordinate a night where you can all sit together and read it out loud together. You can perform the whole thing, you can focus on particular scenes or even read it separately and come together to analyse it.
If you’ve ever taken an acting class or gone to drama school, this might sound eerily familiar. Well, take it from the StageMilk team that you can facilitate this kind of thing on your own—and it costs you nothing more than the bottle of cheap red wine you bought for the occasion, or the few bucks everybody pitches in for a pizza.
It’s funny to think that something so simple and enjoyable can be hugely beneficial. Regular scene study is often the best addition to your practice as an actor. Let’s break down why:
Expand your Knowledge as an Actor
First of all, scene study allows you to cover all the famous roles and texts and stories you may not otherwise encounter. If you’re booking nothing but commercials (first of all, congratulations!), scene study is the chance to crack open some Shakespeare, or Oscar Wilde, or any of the great writers in the canon.
Too few actors train themselves to be knowledgeable about own craft—let alone the wider world of the arts around them. Scene study develops your literacy in regards to plays, books and films. A lot of performers think this is superfluous to actually acting. But they forget that directors and writers communicate using the works that have come before. Strike up a conversation in an audition about a playwright the director loves … they won’t soon forget you.
Upskill your Script Analysis
You know what separates performers from the pack when they’re auditioning, or rehearsing, or even, just acting? The ability to analyse and comprehend meaning in a script. At StageMilk, we stress script analysis as one of an actor’s most vital tools; scene study is all about finding the meaning—especially when the experience is free of the time constraints of a self-tape being due.
With all the time in the world, what might you discover about a scene when you scrutinise every mark on the page? Will you find new ways to build character? Their deepest wants and the lengths they go to fight for them? Perhaps the underlying subtext that changes everything you thought you knew…
Building Confidence as an Actor
If you feel your knowledge or experience is lacking in a particular time period/genre/style, scene study offers up a chance to tighten those skills and grant you some much needed experience. You may still be stepping outside of your comfort zone, but with continued effort you’ll find yourself on more even footing.
Confidence is easy to build with scene study as you’re developing a safe space. Your work and learning isn’t results-based, it’s simply what you discover—supported by the circle of peers you’ve gathered. You may be feeling nervous when you begin. But this will give way when you realise that experimentation, even failure, is something that scene study actually rewards.
And what is the result of developing all these skills and reading all these new works? When it comes to the business of a genuine audition or opportunity, you’re much more prepared! You’ve put time into your craft, you’ve honed your process. You may even have read the script of the play you’re going for.
While this article is centred on scene study for its own sake, there would be nothing wrong with shifting the focus of your group’s work to that of a script you’ve been sent for an upcoming reading. Just be sure that you’re up front with your peers, and let them know your motives for a sudden shift.
Experiment with Directing
Much like acting, scene study can be a safe space to explore the art of directing. This may be a career path you’ve been interested in pursuing, or simply an interest you’re looking to pursue. At StageMilk, we recommend all actors try their hand at directing at least once, as it can give you a sense of how a director must be responsible for all creative aspects of a scene. Not to mention a new level of respect for the job!
Similar to directing, a scene study session can give you a chance to try out some original material you’ve been writing. We encourage all actors to write their own vehicle, even a showreel scene or a monologue, as it has the same benefits we’ve listed above in regards to directing. However, it’s worth checking with your peers first, as it’s different to work with material from a less experienced writer.
Strengthening your Creative Community
The great thing about organising a regular scene study event is that everybody benefits. Everything in this article is true for all involved—so the more people you can bring in to participate, the better it is for your wider creative community.
An actor’s life is tough. If you’re not occasionally questioning your choice to become an actor, you’re either deluding yourself or earning a cool eight figures per movie already. So why not share the quiet times, the uncertain times, with people in your life who truly get the struggle? Find every opportunity you can to support your colleagues in the arts.
Final point, and the most important: scene study is fun. For all the analysis and art and angst, it’s bottles of wine and junk food and prancing about the share-house living room in a ruff made from toilet paper. More than that, it’s you getting to do the thing you love—and with the people in your life who get you more than your own mother.
With all the uncertainty in the actor’s life, scene study can become a beacon that guides you back to your passion. To the why of an existence full-to-the-brim with failure and chaos. Just once a week, once a month, even, carve out something where you can truly be yourself.
I wanted to conclude this article with what I believe is an example of scene study gone very, very right. In the early 1990s, director Andre Gregory led a series of studies based on Anton Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya. With no thought of production, he worked with a group of actors for three years. Eventually, this project caught the attention of filmmaker Louis Malle, and Vanya on 42nd Street was the result.
Take a look at the promo below (and then look up the film on YouTube, you won’t be disappointed.) It’s perhaps one of the finest films about actors, for actors, ever made. These people come together for the love of their craft, for the love of story and stories well told. And they create a masterpiece.
Doesn’t that sound fun?