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LIFE: An Acting 101 Primer - 101c: Given Circumstances

by Chris McGahan

Welcome back to my Acting/ Life 101 primer.

So far, I have talked about Listening and Communication - two basic building blocks of the craft of acting AND having a successful, productive life.

This week, I am talking about Given Circumstances.

Depending on where you studied, Given circumstances can include a lot of different things, but generally speaking, it is comprised of a) who you are, b) where you are coming from, c) the relationships you have with the other characters on stage and d) the “moment before”: where you are directly coming from.
This is all the shit that informs your character on stage and screen. Successful actors know they need to do all of that prepwork and make those informed decision before entering the scene. They also know that the strongest choices are the most honest and come from the information the writer has given you (hence the name, yo-yos!).

Mastery of this takes time though- your prepwork shouldn’t be visible on stage- it needs to be alive within you, without the audience being bludgeoned with your active circumstance-holding. Ultimately the Given Circumstances are a scaffolding to build the structure for your character to play and live in, and the better the scaffolding while building it, the broader your character life will be.

Writers- both stage and screen- have given us actors an amazing gift: all of that information is laid out in nice little paragraphs. Of course there are gaps to be filled in, but a framework is there on the page for you, and you only have a limited pool of characters to develop history with.

In life there is no guideline being handed to you by some outside writer, no litmus test of truth for you to live within. The GOOD news, though, is that you know the person who is writing your life pretty damn well.

Because you are your own playwright.

You know every single detail of the character of you’s backstory, down to minutia that no actor would ever waste time developing. You know EVERYTHING. You are the omniscient recorder of your own Given Circumstances.

Think about it: You know your moment before, because you just lived it, no imagination required. You know your fears, because they follow you. You know your goals and desires, because you feel them every day. You know what choices led you to This. Exact. Point.

Your unique Given Circumstances form the reality of your business situation, in everything from the connections you have already made to the price-point you are willing to work at.

Often times we rail against that though, or ignore the truth of where we are at… and that serves us not at all. Those facts, OUR Given Circumstances are essential: without knowing where we have come from, and acknowledging where we are, we cannot move forward in a productive and efficient way! And just like on stage, the more we structure out and layer in details of who we are and where we came from, the richer our life, our REAL life, will be.

So? What is your “Moment Before?” When you walk into today’s scene in the life you are starring in, what and who are you carrying with you?


Wanna hammer out that framework so you can build a bigger, more structured life? Set up a coaching session with me today and lets give your circumstances a speakable shape!


Please share with your peeps!