Beats – Action Units & Justification

Lesson 5:

Beats – Action Units & Justification



Students will demonstrate their understanding of units of action by justifying the beats they create in their performance piece.


Materials Needed:





Justify Pose Exercise SA p.106: Move around the room freely.  When I shout “stop!” you must freeze into a position.  Justify your pose – say why you are in the pose you are.  Can repeat the exercise with a partner and justify their pose as well.


Justify Verbally Exercise SA p.163: In smaller groups of 4-5: go around the circle and give as many reasons as possible:

You leave your job

You help someone on the street

A mother leaves a package in the layaway department

You take another job

A man crosses the street too fast


How did you justify your choices?  What does justification have to do with acting and the work you’ve done so far?  Perhaps write the students’ answers on the board.




Stanislavsky based his system on the idea that everything an actor does as the character has to be justified by the character’s internal need: the character’s needs and desires cause him to do something (action) in an effort to achieve a desired goal (objective).  Need causes action directed toward an objective. (write that on the board)




Everyone is assigned the same objective: to leave the room (inspired by SA p.112).  But they can’t just leave the room.  They have to have a reason to do so.  Each actor has to invent the justification for doing so (i.e. he cannot be late for work).  Each actor has to perform three different activities before walking through the doorway out to the hall (with previous example of trying not to be late to work this could be checking his watch, gathering his book bag and finding his work schedule, after seeing his start time cramming everything into his bag and dashing out the door). 


Do this in the previous groups: have one group at a time go to the front and take turns trying to reach their objective while the other groups watch as audience members.  Just give students 1-2 minutes to come up with a reason to leave and the actions to justify that action.  Don’t let them think too long; get them up in a row and have them just do it.




A dramatic character usually pursues an action (tactic) until it either succeeds or has been deemed a failure.  If it fails, the character shifts to a new action (could either keep the same objective or drop it and go for a new one).  If it succeeds then the character moves on to a new objective.


Each change of action can be felt as a change in the rhythm of the scene: unit of action or beat.  Immediate actions and objectives have a logical flow aimed at larger objectives.  You should go through the scene beat by beat with a forward sense of momentum (Stan called this the score of the scene).


Process of identifying a unit of action:

  • Isolate a single bit within your work.  A single segment.
  • Define your character’s circumstances as an adjective.
  • Ask yourself “What would I do if I were in this situation?” and answer with an active verb


Worry about the ACTION, not the result!




Analyze the scene by breaking it into units of action.  Define your character’s need, action, and objective in each unit.


Read your piece aloud in front of your group.  Simply sit in your chair and make no effort to “stage” it.  Experience the give and take that moves the scene forward.  Reflect on this process and write down your insights and problems to turn in.




Check-off their beat work, but don’t collect their scripts so that they can take them home.  Have students turn in their reflection of the beat work.  Remind students that memorization is due next class period.  Because of their work the last few days they should be so familiar with the piece that finalizing the memorization should be simple.