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Beats of Acting


Students will be able to understand the concept of marking beats in a script by marking a script with beats.


Materials Needed

Overture from Oklahoma!, CD player, The Importance of Being Earnest Scripts, Stuart Vaughan’s book Directing Plays: A Working Professional’s Method, Overhead of The Importance of Being Earnest scene between Jack and Lady Bracknell, Schanker, Harry H. ed. The Stage and the School. Glencoe McGraw-Hill: Ohio, 1999.


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Lesson Directions

Ask students to get out a piece of paper. Tell the students you will be playing a short piece of music and you would like for them to write down any change in beat, rhythm, style, feeling that they detect.  Explain that you would like them to also note emotional changes: things like fast, slow, sad, happy, energetic, etc. What does the change mean? How is it different? Each unit within changes is a BEAT.

Play the Oklahoma! overture, includes dramatic beat changes.
Discuss how many variations the students found.
How did the music change?
What effect did the change have on you?
Did you stay entertained?

Instruction – Hand out “The Importance of Being Ernest” script to the students. Lead discussion about beats, write important information for the students to know on the board. Discussion should be from Stuart Vaughan’s book, Directing Plays: A Working Professional’s Method. Pages 71-77

· Plays are divided into acts, acts into scenes, scenes, into “beats,” each with its beginning, middle, and end.
· Each beat is a single unit of conflict.
· Share fun story about the origin of the word “beat.”
· The division of a play into beats is objective, everyone will be different in their choices.
· Finding beats
o Look for a change of subject
o Look for a change in who is leading the scene.
o Look for where somebody enters or leaves.
o Look at where someone, in own speech, finished with one problem and takes up another.

Modeling – Get out overhead of scene from “The Importance of Being Ernest” between Jack and Lady Bracknell. Students should obtain copies of The Stage and the School and turn to page 163. Ask three students to volunteer to be Jack, Lady Bracknell, and Stage Directions. Tell students that we will be beating the scene. They should stop whenever they think a beat is over or a new one is beginning. Anyone may contribute and should indicate they want a change by raising their hand. When the reader is finished with the line they are on stop and discuss where the beat is and why it has become a new beat.

Guided Practice – Put students into groups of two and have them mark the beats in the Jack and Gwendolyn scene you passed out at the beginning. Instruct students that they should finish marking the script on their own for homework if they do not finish.



These scene beats will be used in a follow-up lesson entitled 'Blocking' - another lesson plan on this website.


Author's Notes

This lesson is the first half of a two-part lesson: this plan is first and the second half is the lesson plan 'Blocking'. Or this lesson can stand on its own if then applied to another scene/monologue, etc.