Feb 03

Crash Course: Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen

Uta Hagen is a genius, and Respect for Acting is undoubtedly ingenious. But whenever I go to discuss this book with people, I am most often met with, “Oh yeah, I’ve never read that.” Today, I am going to erase all excuses of my peers, and present the main ideas of this fantastic book to you in a few brief paragraphs!


Basically, there are two kinds of actors. The representational actor imitates a characters behavior. They think of their physicality at all times, they try to make the faces their character would make; they try to act like them. To an extreme extent: it’s kind of like impersonation.

The presentational actor focuses less on how they are coming across, and believes that they will portray their character correctly when they can find their character in themselves.

This is where she expands on the more truthful actor: the presentational one. This is the best part of the book!!

In life, we assign ourselves many adjectives. (I am talkative, ambitious, and fun.) We assign our friends many adjectives. (She is quiet, sarcastic, and intelligent.) So by these sort of descriptions, we do these to our characters, as well. WE MUST STOP!

We, as actors, must develop a full sense of identity! Sure in some situations, I might be talkative, but if you place me in a room full of cold strangers, I definitely am not! And it’s the same with everything else. I can’t limit myself to a set list of adjectives, for I can portray every personality trait underneath the sun when put in the right circumstances. And THAT’s how we become presentational actors, because knowing that you are a different person with a different personality all the time, you can play characters truthfully from within yourself! And isn’t that freeing?

But now you might be asking me, “Okay, I can relate to my character’s personality, but I’ve never been in their situation, how do I still respond truthfully?”

This is where emotional memory comes in. This is a very complicated and frankly controversial topic, but basically:

If you are faced by a situation that you ‘cannot relate to’ onstage, you find its real life counterpart in your life. You may have never been chased by a bear, but you do remember a time in your life where you were trying to escape something. You keep that memory with a specific trigger in your mind, and you access it in your scene. That’s emotional memory.


The stars of Part Two are the nine questions that every actor should ask themselves before portraying a role.

  1. Who am I? (Character)
  2. What time is it? (Context, year, day)
  3. Where am I? (Country, neighborhood, room, etc.)
  4. What surrounds me? (Animate and inanimate)
  5. What are the given circumstances? (Past, present, future and events)
  6. What is my relationship? (To objects, characters, and events)
  7. What do I want? (Character’s immediate and superobjectives)
  8. What’s in my way? (Obstacles to objectives)
  9. What do I do to get what I want? (Actions, words)



The objective, as mentioned in part two, is what drives your characters. It is what they want to accomplish with every line, with every glance at another character, with every stage direction to ‘cross stage left.’ Your character is doing all these things for a reason.

In regular life, we might get into a heated argument with one of our peers and say, “You are a horrible person, and your hair looks like straw!” Are we saying this to point out to them a personality trait that they possess? No. We do this to insult them. That is an example of an objective.

The character also has something called a superobjective, which is what they are trying to accomplish throughout the whole play. All of the minor objectives should ultimately lead up to accomplishing the superobjective. Think of the superobjective as the boss of all of the lesser objectives. An example of a superobjective could be: to find security or even to find love.

Following Uta Hagen’s brilliant method, you can now be equipped to finding a truthful reaction in artificial circumstances!

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