What Are the 5 W’s of Acting?
Defining your character’s given circumstances
(By Jim Webb)
(Photo: Cottonbro | Pexels)
Who are you? What do you want in life and why do you want it? Where are you and when is this moment in your life taking place?
These are the types of questions that define who a person is, in real life. They are also the questions that can help define your character, as an actor.
When you take on a role, in an acting class or in a professional acting role, it is helpful to analyze the world in which your character exists. In acting, that “world” is often called the character’s given circumstances.
Understanding these circumstances can help determine how you should perform your character and how you should engage with other characters.
One helpful way to analyze your character’s given circumstances is by answering the 5 W’s: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Who is your character?
You can ask questions like:
Is my character young or old? Rich or poor? Healthy or sickly? Educated or uneducated? Married, divorced or single? Children or no children? Content or frustrated? Religious or non-religious?
(Photo: Cottonbro | Pexels)
What does your character want?
What is their objective in the scene? What is their objective in the overall story – their super-objective?
You could ask yourself questions like:
Does my character want another character in the story to give them money, or love? Are they fighting for their job, their respect, or perhaps, their freedom? Do they want another character to do something bad, or convince them to do something good?
When does the scene or the story take place?
For example, is it in the future or the past or the present? Is it happening in the 1950’s, the 1970’s, or perhaps, the year 2080?
What time of day is it? Is it in the morning or afternoon or evening? How does the time of day affect how your character should behave in the scene?
Where is your character in the scene?
For example, are they outside a bank, preparing to rob it? Are they in an interrogation room, yelling at a suspect?
Is your character on earth or in outer space? Is your character in the United States or a foreign country? Is your character in a comfortable place surrounded by friends or in an uncomfortable place, surrounded by enemies?
(Photo: Towfiqu Barbhuiya | Unsplash)
Why does your character want what they want?
For example, why does your character need his father’s approval, or her mother’s love?
Why does your character need the job they are fighting for? Will his wife leave him if he loses the job?
Why does your character need the money he is embezzling from his company? Has he fallen on hard times? Does he have gambling debts?
By answering the 5 W’s, you can better understand your character, the world they live in, what they want and why they want it.
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