'Given Circumstances' Activity for Student Actors

Practice Communicating Information About Your Character

Actor rehearsing on stage
Hill Street Studios

In a dramatic scene or monologue or improvisation, the term “given circumstances” refers to the “who, where, what, when, why, and how” of the characters:

  • Who are you? (Name, age, gender, nationality, physical health, mental health, etc.)
  • Where are you? (In a room, outdoors, on an airplane, in a stagecoach, at a party, at a ball, etc.)
  • When does the action occur? (In the present, in the past, in the imagination, in the future, in a dream, etc.)
  • Why are you present in this situation? (Hiding, celebrating, escaping, seeking?)
  • How are you behaving? (Loudly, stealthily, subtly, conversationally, physically, coyly?)

Given circumstances are directly stated and/or indirectly inferred from the text of a script or from the interaction with scene partners in improvisational work: what a character says, does or does not do, and what other characters say about him or her.

Student Actor Activity

To give student actors practice in considering and communicating given circumstances, here is an activity led by Gary Sloan, author of "In Rehearsal: In the World, in the Room, and On Your Own."

Materials Needed:

  • Paper
  • Writing instruments


  1. Ask students to think about where they currently are (a classroom, a studio, a rehearsal stage) and then give some thought to why they are there.
  2. Distribute paper and pens or pencils and give students this writing assignment: Think about yourself and write a paragraph about your current given circumstances—Who are you? Where are you right now and why are you here? How are you feeling or behaving? Ask students to place the most emphasis on the why and the how aspects of this written reflection. (Note: You may choose to have students identify themselves by name or you can leave that part of the “who” out of the writing.)
  3. Give students 15 to 20 minutes of silent writing time.
  4. Call time and ask students to place whatever they have written—even if they do not feel it is complete—on a table or chair or rehearsal box located somewhere in the room, preferably in a central location.
  5. Instruct all students to walk slowly in a circle around the object holding the pieces of paper. Then, whenever they feel the impulse to, they should take one of the papers (not their own, of course).
  6. Once all students have a paper, ask them to familiarize themselves with what’s written on it—Read it carefully, absorb it, think about the words and the ideas.
  7. After giving students 5 or so minutes, explain that each will read the words on the paper aloud to the group as if auditioning for a part. They are to treat the words as if they are a monologue and deliver a cold reading. Tell students: “Read it aloud as if this is YOUR story. Make us believe you mean it.”
  8. One at a time, when a student is ready, have each deliver the words on the chosen paper. Remind them to remain conversational and speak as if the words were their own.


After all the students have shared their readings, discuss what it was like to deliver someone else’s words as if they were your own. Liken this experience to what actors must do with lines of dialogue in a published script. Discuss whether and how this activity increased students’ understanding of given circumstances and how to use them in their character work.