Actioning is the process of allocating an action or intention to each line or idea in a script.

The action is described with a transitive verb – this is a verb that is “done to” someone else, such as “teases” or “threatens” or “distracts”. It helps actors to decide and convey clearly what their character is trying to “do” with each line to the person or people it is spoken to. Perhaps they are trying to shock; to reassure; to intrigue; to seduce; to amuse.

The technique can be used in regular dialogue or even when the audience is being addressed directly. As well as giving actors a clarity of purpose for every line, it is also a useful tool for keeping a performance consistent over the course of a long run.

Out of Joint’s director Max Stafford-Clark is associated with the technique, having used it and popularised it for 30 years.

Actioning in Practice – video and scripts

Join Max in the rehearsal room, where we’ll work on a scene from Stella Feehily’s play Duck. In the video below, we’ll see how the scene can play differently when we give the lines different actions.

First, download these two scripts of the scene. The lines are identical, but we’ve given them different actions.

Duck scene with actions – 1
Duck scene with actions – 2

Now, watch as Max and actors play the scene both ways, and then improvise around it – just as we’d do in a rehearsal.


Actioning resources in our shop:

Actions, The Actors’ Thesaurus

Page after page of cross-referenced transitive verbs – or actions – to broaden your vocabulary and give you a great range of choices for how to play a line. Buy now.

Letters To George
Max Stafford-Clark’s acclaimed and insightful rehearsal diary from his production of George Farquahar’s The Recruiting Officer. It includes clear and practical examples of actioning, improvisation and other rehearsal techniques, as well as a funny and honest overview of how a production takes shape. Buy now.

Read Stella Feehily’s acclaimed debut play, as featured in the above resources. Buy now.



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