- Who am I?
- What time is it?
- Where am I?
- What surrounds me?
- What are the given circumstances?
- What are my relationships?
- What do I want?
- What is in my way?
- What do I do to get what I want?
The knowledge that every day there is something more to learn, something higher to reach for, something new to make for others, makes each day infinitely precious.Uta Hagen
An essential skill for an actor is understanding the character they are taking up. Without proper understanding, an actor will not be able to bring out the character or connect to the audience. The script will usually contain everything you need to know about the character, but there are some details you need to invent yourself. Whatever you do, it’s critical to remember that you must understand the character and know everything about it inside out. That is where the Uta Hagen questions come in as a technique.
Who is Uta Hagen? If you are big on history, then you have heard of the legendary actress Uta Hagen. The actress influenced the acting industry in the 20th century. Her work is still playing a big role in today’s theatres. Uta made her debut in theatre in 1938 when she featured in The Seagull by Anton Chekov’s. Some of her other unforgettable works include Martha’s role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and when she played against Marlon Brando in A Star Named Desire.
Uta Hagen is also a legendary coach who instructed some of the best actors known to history. She has her roots in the infamous Group Theatre. She taught in Herbert Berghof studio in New York. Those are not her only accolades, as Uta Hagen is an author. She wrote two books;
|Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen (1973)||A Challenge for the Actor by Uta Hagen (1991)|
In the first book; “Respect for Acting” she outlines the Uta Hagen 9 questions that every actor should ask themselves when preparing for a role. In her second book; “A Challenge for the Actor” she reframed the questions into six steps. Her acting technique was moistly based on, but her technique encompassed the roles for everyone in the craft; the director, teacher, actor, and writer. Let’s take a look at the nine Uta Hagen questions.
Who am I?
The first step to understanding your character is understanding who they are. The question must answer the following details;
- Name: the name of the character speaks volumes, including the family or where the person belongs. Depending on the script setting, the name may also tell you the class of the person. Ensure to look out for even the smallest details associated with the name.
- Age: are you playing a teenager or a young mature woman? The age of the character also shapes the role.
- Physical traits: look lout for any unique features or disabilities the character may have. For instance, in My Left Foot, Christy Brown is suffering from cerebral palsy, and only his left foot is working. Day-Lewis had to play his character to suit his character.
- Educational background: what kind of education has your character attained? The educational qualification will influence how your character behaves, converses, and even body language. Education also influences the skills of the character.
- Likes and dislikes: what the character likes and dislikes shapes their behaviors, including how they act towards other actors.
- Fears: list out all the fears you identify while reading the script. Throughout the scenes, your character will try to overcome their fears.
- Ethics code: moral principles that govern the characters behaviour.
- Beliefs: our beliefs make us who we are. They shape how we behave and the things we can do or not. It’s crucial to analyze a character’s beliefs while reading through the script as they will guide how you act.
What time is it?
Time in a play includes the years or era the script is set. Research on that era, including how people spoke, how they dressed, trending, the technology, etc. The time may also refer to the season; winter, autumn, summer, or fall. In a scene, even the time of day matters. For instance, you cannot approach a late-night scene with the same energy as normal. The time guides you by setting rules you cannot break.
Where am I?
The place is as important as the first Uta Hagen question. I always say that the place is a character in itself. The feel and emotions come from the place where the scene is taking place. You won’t feel the same way shooting in Hawaii as shooting in New York. Ensure you study the place, whether city, town, or even apartment before the actual shooting. I would even recommend spending a few days at the place before shooting. Marlon Brando, while shooting The Men, spent a whole month in hospital to prepare psychologically for the role.
What surrounds me?
It can be animate and inanimate objects in your surroundings. Familiarize with the before the actual shooting. Whether it’s the furniture in a room, the camera, and set at the shooting location, you name it. Exploring can create unique ideas that come in handy in acting.
What are the given circumstances?
Think of the past, present, and future of the actor. The script usually helps in identifying the circumstances. The past, for instance, can influence the current situation. Always think of the circumstance that may occur after or occurred before what the character is facing.
What are my relationships?
The most basic relationships are those with other characters. Relations are, however, not limited to people. It can be to events, innate objects, and props. Identify how they influence your role.
What do I want?
The question can be approached in two ways; scene objectivity and overall objectivity. Ensure you can identify your character’s needs in both the present and long term. You can identify the scene objective when cold reading. The objective of every scene contributes to the overall objective of the script. After reading the whole script, you should be able to write down the overall objective in a single line.
What is in my way?
The question aims at answering what obstacles your character faces and how to overcome them. You need to list all the obstacles you can find. Approach this question by looking at every scene’s objectives and any obstacles the character may face in actualizing them.
What do I do to get what I want?
The last question should summarize the others. It should look at the actions taken by the character. The best way to do this is to go scene by scene, answering identifying the action required.
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