Psycho-physical Acting: Chekov Exercises

Lesson 3: Psycho-physical Acting: Chekov Exercises


Objective: Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of psycho-physical acting techniques by using psychological gesture in practicing their objectives.



TH:Cr3.1.II.b. Use research and script analysis to revise physical, vocal, and physiological choices impacting the believability and relevance of a drama/ theatre work

TH:Pr5.1.II.a. Refine a range of acting skills to build a believable and sustainable drama/theatre performance.

TH: Re7.1.II.a. Demonstrate an understanding of multiple interpretations of artistic criteria and how each might be used to influence future artistic choices of a drama/theatre work.

TH:Cn11.2.II.a. Formulate creative choices for a devised or scripted drama/theatre work based on theatre research about the selected topic.


Materials: Character quotes from plays, laptop & videos, Print outs of scenes.

Lesson 3.Character Quotes


Preparation: Print out character quotes, print out scenes.


Starter: (5 minutes) Write on the board, “What are the some pros and cons of psychological acting?”

Have a short discussion about this.


Instruction: (10 minutes)Psycho-Physical

Purpose: To distinguish psychological acting from psycho-physical acting.

Great! Today we’ll be focusing on Psycho-Physical acting, specifically the Michael Chekhov’s acting techniques. Can anyone guess how this is different from psychological acting? (allow them to answer.) Let’s try to see what these two things look like.


Step 1: Watch The Blind Side clip

  1. What do you notice about the acting style?
  2. Where are they showing emotion the most? Why do you think that is?
  3. What are some pros and cons to this acting style?


Step 2: Watch Michael Chekhov acting


  1. How was their acting style different than the blind side clip? Why do you think that was?
  2. Where are they showing emotion the most? Why do you think that is?


The psycho-physical technique relies upon drawing emotion from both the mind, and the body. In this technique, these two things are connected. This also makes sense because many psychology experiments have shown that when someone does the body language of an emotion (for example, smiling) the person will eventually feel that emotion (which can mean certain chemicals, like serotonin or the chemical that makes you happy, are released in the brain just by doing the physical action. Literally, fake it till you make it can work to your advantage.


Let’s begin exploring how our bodies and minds are connected with a warm-up.


Warm-Up: (10 minutes) Triangle Flow

Purpose: to get the students thinking about how their bodies can communicate abstract feelings.

The class should get into their groups for the performance, and then further divide so that everyone is in groups of 3.


Each group will get into a triangle (or a diamond if there needs to be a group of four), with everyone facing the same direction. The leader of the triangle will begin the stretching and moving. Make it slow, deliberate, and meaningful as a warm-up. It may be a good idea to demonstrate this before having the students do it.

Then at some point, the leader must find a way to non-verbally switch to another leader. After a while, that leader must find a way to switch to another leader.

After 5 minutes, stop the students.



  1. What were some of the things you were feeling or thinking while doing your physical exercise? Was your body and mind connected? If yes, in what way? If no, why?


Instruction: (5 minutes) Psychological gestures

Let’s explore this idea of connectedness by doing psychological gestures. But first, let’s remind ourselves what a gesture is.

  1. Thinking back to the viewpoints unit, what is the definition of a gesture?
    1. A shape with a beginning, middle and end.
  2. Does anyone feel like they can describe what psychological gestures?
    1. A movement that embodies the psychology of a character.
  3. How are psychological gestures related to viewpoint gestures? How are they different?
    1. Psychological gestures are a specific acting technique used to get into character, and to explore the relationship between mind and body for the character. They are always gestures (shapes with a beginning, middle, and end) but they are not to be used in a drama work necessarily. Only in the preparation of a dramatic role.



Chekhov was trained by Stanislavski. Do you all remember who Stanislavski is? He notes in his book on acting that Stanislavski’s methods work for Stanislavski because he is naturally very connected to his body. However, Chekhov argues that most actors, especially beginning actors, are not very connected to their bodies. Because of this, actors need to prepare for their roles in very physical ways, not just by understanding the psychology.

Let’s practice this!



Have the step by step instructions written on the board.

Step 1: Create gesture in your mind.

Step 2: Begin to rehearse the gesture. Make it huge, full of energy, and abstract.

Step 3: Continue doing the gesture in a large, non-realistic way, while saying the line.

Step 4: Begin to make gesture more realistic, while saying the line. Keep the energy!


Emphasize and demonstrate the difference between realistic gestures and abstract. Go through the rest and ask for questions. Demonstrate quickly the whole process. Make sure the board is somewhere students can still see it. This will be a good visual for students who get confused or behind.


Activity: (10 minutes) Making Psychological gestures

Step 1: As a class memorize the following line: “Will you please stop what you are doing.”

Step 2: As a class we are going to practice putting our objectives into our body through gestures. I will tell you an objective that goes along with the line of dialogue you just memorized, and then you have got to follow the steps.

  • Your character wants to get their friend to talk about what they have been keeping secret.

What would that feel like in your body? How would you express the urgency of the situation? Begin to see the gesture in your mind. This gesture should represent this desire, or your objective. Make sure the gesture is moving, big and abstract. Encourage students to over exaggerate. Feel the gesture in every part of their body.

Step 3: Now, begin to make the gesture.  Remember, the more abstract the better. Feel free to change it as you are doing it. Repeat it over and over exploring how this gesture influences all of your muscles, joints, etc.

Step 5: Now, begin saying the line of the character while doing the gesture. Make sure your voice, your intentions, and your body are all in sync.

Step 5: After a minute or so of repeating this over and over, have the students gradually stop doing the psychological gesture, and just say the words. They should begin to find gestures and movement that seem more realistic, but maintain the intent, and expression of the psychological gesture.

Step 6: Now try this process again, but with a different objective:

  • Your character wants to make themselves resist a delicious doughnut.

Step 7: Try the whole process again but this time with a line and objective from your favorite movie.



  1. What was your experience with this? Did the gesture help you in any way? If so, how? If not, why?
    1. Don’t throw out this technique just because the first time you tried it, it didn’t work. Finding true connectedness between your body and mind takes LOTS of practice. Years and years for many actors.


We are going to work more with this acting method tomorrow. However, we are going to practice this acting method using our scripts for our final performances. Keep in mind that we will be practicing a lot of different acting methods with these scripts before we make final decisions.


Tell them that they can choose their own partner for this assessment, however, they need to make sure it fits the scene. For example, two girls cannot do the Romeo and Juliet scene. That’s simply because of the nature of the scene. Today, you’ll be given a scene, but you will not be given what acting method you are supposed to use until after today’s activities. We are going to review each of the acting methods we’ve covered in relation to the scene you’ve been assigned. Then after you’ve done some practice with them all, you’ll be given the one you should focus on.


Project the scene list onto the screen: (or whatever list you create for your class; scripts not included)

Odd Couple—– Two characters, male or female

Barefoot in the Park—- 1 male, 1 female

Our Town—- 1 male, 1 female

Antigone—- 1 male, 1 female

Measure For Measure— Two characters, male or female

Clean House- 2 women, 1 man


Now choose your groups! Only 2 groups can do each scene, so if you all choose the odd couple, I will make you change your scene.


Activity 2: Basic script analysis (10 minutes)

Step 1: Take the next ten minutes to read over your script, decide who will be who, and then come up with a main objective. You only have 10 minutes to do this, so please use the time wisely. Also, remember to discuss with your partner dates. Make sure you will both be here the day you are supposed to perform. Get each other’s contact information. (Learn from the last group project!)

Step 2: Look for smaller objectives your character has within the scene, as well as places where your character’s objective changes. Write down each changing objective.

Step 3: Now, take one part of the scene where you feel your character is fighting really hard to achieve their objective. Come up with a psychological gesture and make a video recording of you doing this.


Conclusion: Before you leave, please send me the video you recorded so that I can give you feedback!


Assessment Scoring: Students will receive 20 participation points for the day. They will get another 5 points for the starter. They will get an additional 5 points for the video recording.


Adaptations: Students who have difficulty speaking in the discussions can write down responses on a piece of paper. Extended time to answer verbally will be provided by the teacher.