I’ve written about this topic before, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it again. It’s vital and the more you employ tactics, the more engaged you will be with the scene, the scene partner and, if you must, the character.
One of the most important aspects of acting are the use of actions or tactics. They are essentially the same thing. Some people call them actions, that’s probably the more traditional name for them (you get that term associated with the work of Stanislavski) but then some people call them tactics, which is probably a more useful term for the things that we use – the things we do to get what we want.
So that’s what tactics are, they are the things that we use to get what we want. That’s what’s happening in each scene of the play, the character is striving to achieve something: to obtain a desire or meet a need, and this is what compels them throughout the scene. It can be simple like a hamburger or complex like unconditional love. When the character attempts to get what they want, they employ certain tactics (or actions) to do this.
When actors work on a scene, they need to identify the character’s goal, their desire, their want. They need to translate that into something that the actor can do and the way that this is achieved (we call this “the how”), and how we go about getting the goal.
Tactics make concrete that translation from page to stage. Tactics turn the words of the playwright into the actions of the actor. Tactics are concrete things that can be done by the actor, within the context of the scene that bring the scene to life – literally.
Tactics are usually expressed as transitive verbs, this is a horrid term, but it’s essentially a verb that can be done to someone else (like coax, bully, nudge, massage, goad, bribe or pester).
There are two ways of using tactics, the traditional one is to write them in, to score them into your script, as you work out what the character is doing to the other character to get what they want. The other way is for the actor to come up with a bunch of tactics to use in a scene, that work within the context of the scene and that they can use based on what the other actor is doing in the moment. Both work very well, my only problem with the first is that it tends to lock you into a pattern and you end up acting in a certain way regardless of what the other actor is doing. If you truly work off the other actor, then you need to constantly be cycling through tactics and that really really keeps you on your toes.
Tactics use verbs that encourage action, these are very different from adjectives that are descriptive and are impossible to put into action.