How familiar are you with breaking down beats? It’s a fantastic tool. Sometimes the text will literally tell you to take a beat, meaning a pause, but much of the time it’s up to you to figure out where the beats are.
So what is a beat in acting?
A beat is, in its simplest form, a moment of transition — or a shift to a new idea. And it’s not just something to mark in your script (though you should write it down!), it’s a place where something happens.
Is there a new obstacle? Are you trying a new action or tactic? Is the other character giving you something totally new? Have you learned new information?
CLASS CLIP TRANSCRIPTION
Sarah: What is a beat in acting?
Ashley: Maybe like a pause in the rhythm of the way that they’re speaking?
Sarah: Yeah, that’s kind of part of it. How would you find it in the script?
Ashley: It could depend on the character. Cuz Gwen is very fast and she’s very responsive whereas other characters could be more slow-paced like responding, so it depends.
Sarah: Yeah, so I know what you mean. For these, for your scene work, what you want to look for…sometimes like I said it’ll just tell you when to take a pause, it’ll either say “pause” or “beat” or, you know, “she thinks.” And it’s good sometimes for your visual, like as you’re working, to like draw a big line across the page right there. To be like: there is a change.
Cuz it’s not just simply about- I need to pause. It’s a clue to you that you have to do something in that pause. Because we don’t just pause for pausing sake, we pause for a reason. Just like in any acting scene, we don’t move our bodies or cross—like if you’re in a play and you have to cross the stage, never cross the stage unless you know why you’re crossing the stage. Same thing goes with when you’re singing. Destination on the stage is for emotional reasons. If I’m singing about something where I feel like I’m trying to get closer to someone, I might take a step forward, right? In a play, I may need to get away. It may feel too dangerous to be that close to that person right there if you’re working in a play or you’re working on set and the director tells you you have to go do a certain thing, you need to justify it always. And the same thing is true for the beats.
Beats happen because there is a transition. That’s really what a beat is. A beat is a transition where it’s a new idea, a new section. So the beats are where the transitions happen, and it’s really important to know where they happen, because there’s acting moments on all the transitions. There’s acting moments and opportunities, and casting directors and directors and even audiences love, we don’t know it consciously, but we love watching actors make transitions. It’s very exciting to watch when it’s done well.
So that’ll really help you with those acting moments of the transitions, but also, it’s where you’re in a new idea, where everything is…your actions will all support each other in those beats, right, depending on what beat you’re in. Is that kind of making sense? Do you feel more clear about what a beat is?
Sarah: Yeah, it’s good for you to figure those out, where they are in your scenes, and mark them very clearly, so you can transition, transition, transition, transition.