We're always trying to figure out new, innovative ways to test our actor's abilities. And here's our latest one: using a thesaurus to strengthen your characters and acting.
Yes, it may sound crazy but it could be the technique that stands between you and a fantastic show!
Here's why it works
Think about what you do as you teach students to write. You want them to step outside the comfort of basic "see Spot run" vocabulary. You push them to use synonyms to make their writing more varied and sophisticated. Here's an example.
A student writes:
Sam told us his opinion.
When you update with the help of a thesaurus, you might suggest switching the verb for a more interesting turn of phrase:
Sam revealed his opinion to us.
See how different the tone of the second sentence is? This is the theory behind supplementing your acting study with a thesaurus.
Imagine that the stage direction for a character says he walks into the scene.
Walk as a verb is such a nondescript way to tell us about an action. What if he sauntered? What if he strolled? What if he stomped? What if he wandered?
It's your (and your actors') job to dig into the subtext of the scene.
Here's an easy exercise
Assign one scene to your actors. Tell them to run through this scene just as the stage direction and dialogue dictates.
Then tell them to go through that scene and for every verb, find a synonym that reflects what the character is going through and how they might take action.
Once they have noted all these changes (you can see how we teach our students to take notes on their script here) have them run the scene again with these insights.
I would bet that their second run of the scene is much better, more in-depth and tells a better story.
I usually try to get a discussion going about the characters actions after this exercise. How did your acting change? Did you realize a new depth to this scene or character? How does the character's action in this scene influence the rest of the script?
The discussion topics are basically endless. But take advantage of this fresh comparison with your actors.
Pretty easy, right? I suggest doing this scene by scene, as the notes and translations of verbs could become cluttered when doing an entire script at once.