What are Beats? 

By Webmaster

  • What are Beats?

    Recognizing the important shifts in the story to deliver a more powerful performance

    (By Tonya Tannenbaum)

    (Photo: Alex Green | Pexels)

    A beat is a slight shift in the thought, tone or in the action of a scene. Breaking a scene down into beats helps actors make stronger choices and take more specific actions, to deliver a more powerful performance.

    Scenes and monologues never move in a linear fashion. They never move seamlessly in one monotonous direction, the whole time.

  • There can be many subtle twists and turns along the way. There can be many points where the action and tone of the scene shifts in one direction or the other. These subtle shifts are known as beats.

    Here is an example of how beats work:

    BEGIN OFFICE SCENE

    (Photo: Anna Shvets | Pexels)

    Employee enters the manager’s office. Employee and manager greet each other warmly.

    (Beat)

    Employee clears her throat and begins to explain why she deserves a promotion over her male counterpart

    (Beat)

    The now uncomfortable manager begins to explain why the employee will not be chosen for the promotion. He has doubts about her work performance.

    (Beat)

    Now, somewhat angry, the employee explains why her performance far exceeds her male counterpart.

    (Beat)

    The manager, realizing she is correct, agrees to recommend her for the promotion, instead.

    (Beat)

    Relieved, both the employee and the manager shake hands.

    END OF SCENE

  • In this brief example, there were several beats; several shifts in tone and action for both characters. With each beat, a different action needed to be taken. These different actions make the scene more enjoyable for the audience.

    The audience must see the manager become physically uncomfortable. They must see the employee change from friendly to angry. They must see, at the very end, that there has been a resolution and that the two characters are back on friendly terms again.

    (Photo: Alex Green | Pexels)

    Without breaking the scene down into beats and taking specific actions with each beat, an actor risks delivering a monotone performance. And monotone performances are dull and boring!

    Important Note:

    A “beat”, in acting, can also mean a one-second pause. For example, a director might say something to you like:

    “Before your character speaks, take a beat, walk slowly towards the other actor and then, say your lines.”

    In this scenario, the director wants you to pause for a moment, for dramatic effect.


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