Punctuation for Actors - How Do Actors Use Punctuation?

Punctuation for Actors 2

 Punctuation Part 2: What?

So as mentioned in the previous blog post in this series, Punctuation in playwriting,  is our most direct link to the playwright and acts as a roadmap to guide us to an approximation of their intentions. We will now look into the marks themselves. Of the 14 symbols, 11 of them translate to performance...Let’s do this. 


The Sentence Enders. (Thought enders.)      .   ?    !

The Full Stop.(or Period if you are so inclined.)

 - The Full stop officially is the end point of a declarative statement. A statement is a fully formed thought (made of a subject and predicate). Playwrights use full stops to end thoughts, and the punctuation should be honoured to let that thought sink in for both the person saying it, their scene partner and the audience.

The Question Mark ?


-We use the question mark to relay a thought in which there is input required from another person to complete what we wish to express. It is very much linked to subtext in acting as when a question becomes rhetorical it acts as a window into the hidden intentions of a character. The issue with most actors is that they don’t honor the mark. If you ask a question (that's not rhetorical) you expect an answer. If you rail over the space in which someone might answer you have ignored the intentions of the character and the playwright.

The Exclamation Point !


-The Exclamation point is linked to a sudden outcry in speech, and the unsavvy actor usually translates this to HOW LOUD CAN I SCREAM THIS LINE!


No...just no.


For the purpose of acting you need to look at the exclamation point as the end of a thought that has been infused with emotion in some way. How can you affect the thought expressed with the manifestations of physical, mental,and vocal instruments without falling prey to playing a stereotypical emotional state? They are gifts from the playwright and deserve a good deal of analysis...not just volume. 

The Thought Shifters    ,     ;    :

The Comma ,


-The Comma is often sighted as a pause or a place to breath within the context of drama, but in reality its actual literary purpose is much more useful to the actor. The Comma is most useful as a seperation of the individual elements of a complete thought. Allow it to act as a shift in thought or a realisation that helps support what is being said. These shifts can be closely linked with tactics and actioning when approaching text.


The Semicolon ;


-The semicolon is literally a full stop, followed by a comma, and this should indicate exactly what it does. It creates a close relationship between two independent thoughts that are more closely linked to each other than had they been seperated by just a full stop. They can exist without each other, but don’t really want to. The actor should pay close attention to why these things are so closely linked. 

The Colon :


-The colon, like the semi-colon tells us, in its structure exactly where to go as an actor. Two full stops. These thoughts can be used in two ways. To indicate that the second thought will explain the first, or that the listener needs to pay attention, because this next bit is important. 

The Pace of Thought   --  /

The Dash --


The dash in grammar indicates range and connection. Connection being the most important aspect for the actor. Use the dash as a conduit for thought. It surges forward like it's been grabbed by the current and flies out of you rushing to the next thought.  


Note: that the grammatical hyphen is used in the same sense but within words. The effect joins words together with a slightly elevated lexical tempo. For example Merry-Go-Round.

The Slash /


The Slash is a modern mark of punctuation and usually is found in the world of science and mathematics. When it appears in a script it usually acts in counterpoint to the dash in that is halts the progression of a thought and is often used to cut the actor off. 

The Clarification or Loss of Thought  () “” ...

The Parenthesis ()


-The parenthesis (like the Brackets or Braces {}[] in technical punctuation) are there to create further clarifying thought for the actor linked to the thought before it. In addition to this, depending if the thought within the parenthesis is random, it indicates a kind of brain-fart that may be linked to the thought via subtext. 

The Quotation Marks “”


-The quotation marks indicate that we are speaking the words of another person and in the world of acting, when they show up it is a direct order that you must make some alteration to your voice. A huge shift isn't always necessary, but an actor must somehow indicate to the audience that these words are not your own. Play with the timbre and pitch of the voice, see what you can do to differentiate.


The Ellipsis …


-The ellipsis is often mistaken as a place where you are cut off...in actuality it's also used as a trailing off of thought or a loss of thought. The three full stops show us a loss of clarity. Find a way to lose your train of thought...it may very well be that this enables another actor or character to interrupt but keeping the loss of clarity within you keeps you in the moment, and avoids your performance becoming too planned.

In the next part of this blog we will begin to look at how we can take punctuation to the next level by assigning them to a physical action. By using a kind of psycho-active gesture in the vein of Michael Chekhov, we can begin to link our bodies to the mental and vocal processing of punctuation to actually feel the tempo, rhythm and intention the playwright has instilled in their work. 

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