Hello! Welcome to ACTING! a student's guide. I'm Jared, a student at the University of Florida, and I'm here to walk you through the basics of the art of acting. I've studied and done theater for over 10 years in school and around my community in Miami, so I hope I know enough to give you a little taste. There are many kinds of acting in the world, but my introduction will focus specifically on acting in regard to the American theater, and is meant specifically for students and young adults. Of course, acting is something that is very difficult to teach, especially through a website, but I hope this guide can serve as a good opening to the world of the stage.

Three student actors perform a scene from The Big Brain on Bobby Martin.
Three student actors perform a scene from The Big Brain on Bobby Martin.

So What's Acting, Anyway?

You see it in movies. You see it on television. You may be lucky enough to see it on a Broadway stage. So just what is this art form that enamors everyone from grade school kids to grey-haired kids at heart? Folks, I'm talking about acting, the art of telling a story by portraying a character. Like art, music, dance, and other forms of expression, acting can mean different things to different people. To some, it is a hobby: playing pretend among friends or acting in a few community theater plays every now and then. For others, it is a craft to be mastered: fine-tuning the nitty gritty details put into every character and every piece of action to make a performance perfect. Acting starts with portraying a character. As the character, the actor behaves truthfully ("acts") according to the fictional circumstances given to him or her by the text (the script, the story, etc.). An objective is whatever the actor is trying to achieve; it's the goal he or she is striving to reach. A key to acting well is always targeting and pursuing the objective. Anything that gets in the way of the actor reaching his or her objective is called an obstacle.


This may seem like mumbo jumbo at first glance, but it's a lot easier to understand than it looks. For example, let's pretend that I'm playing a teenage boy named Logan, and I'm trying to get a teenage girl I like, Sally, to notice me. Logan is my character. To portray him, I'd learn as much as possible about every aspect of him (which you can read tons more about at Creating a Character). The fictional circumstances of this situation might be that Sally and I are complete strangers. Or, we might be best friends. Sally may not even be interested in men. The circumstances are whatever is dictated by the script, both explicitly and implied. With these circumstances in mind, I pursue my objective of getting Sally to notice me. How do I do that? With tactics.

Tactics are the "ways" of achieving the objective. So, to get Sally to notice me, I might walk right up to her and say "HEY, I like you!" (Hopefully not.) Or, I might act like I'm too cool to notice her (the jerk approach). I might even be as subtle as to give a smile here and there when she speaks, to watch her as she enters or exits the stage, and glance in her direction sometimes while talking to someone else. The possibilities are endless! Much of what I will do is dictated to me by the script, but some of it is my responsibility as the actor to create. Now, what if Sally laughs in my face and turns me down? Well, that'd be an obstacle. Whenever a character encounters an obstacle, such as another character standing in the way of what he or she wants, it's a good idea to try a new tactic.

A Few Random Video Clips of Great Acting

Enough talk. Let's see some pieces of great acting from Academy Award-nominated actors. See if you can point out the characters' objectives, tactics, and obstacles in each scene.

Will Smith as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller in Doubt (2008)

Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989)