8 Acting Exercises for the Well-Prepared Performer

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It’s important for actors at any level to keep their skills sharp by going back to the basics. Here are four exercises created by some of the greatest acting teachers in history that can help you improve your technique, establish a strong foundation as a performer, and take your craft to the next level.


Basic Object Exercise

Uta Hagen emphasized the importance of observing the details of routine actions and incorporating them into performance. Her Basic Object Exercise can make actors more aware of the small actions they perform in everyday life. The objective of this exercise, also called “two minutes of daily life,” is to replicate the activities you do over the course of your routine while focusing on minutiae you wouldn’t ordinarily consider. 

Think about brewing a cup of coffee. Usually, we don’t put much thought into pressing the button to turn on the percolator, reaching for a mug, and pouring the drink. Basic Object Exercise asks you to focus intently on what it feels like to perform each step. Take notice of any behaviors, movements, and reactions you might not have paid attention to otherwise.

Imagination Exercise



This technique from acting teacher Stella Adler can help performers hone their creative skills in order to have them ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. To start, pick an object you can see and describe it in detail. Be as specific and straightforward as possible, noting things like the size, shape, texture, and color of the object. 

The idea is to become so quick at describing your surroundings that it loosens up your creative muscle, allowing you to fall into a state of free association, aka “traveling.” Use your imagination to rapidly move beyond what something looks like so you can explore what it says to you. For example, maybe a red rose reminds you of a red dress you saw someone wearing at a party, which reminds you of the food you ate that night and the song that was playing at the moment you noticed the dress.

Packing a Bag with Given Circumstances

Konstantin Stanislavsky, often called the father of modern acting, created the concept of “given circumstances” within a scene. This includes the conditions surrounding your character, as well as their context within the story—everything from their background to where they live, their job, and their relationship to those around them. This technique involves carefully analyzing the script in order to ask basic questions about a character.

The next step is to literally pack a bag—either by miming or using actual objects—under the conditions you’ve laid out. For example, how would you perform this task as a college freshman who’s late for class, whose the professor has warned them that they’ll fail if they miss one more session?

Repetition Exercise

Acting scene partner

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Sanford Meisner, who emphasized the reality of doing, believed repetition would allow actors to rely on natural instincts instead of over-thinking while performing. His well-known repetition exercise is best done with a partner. 

To begin, sit across from your partner and state an observation. This can be as simple as saying, “Your eyes are blue.” Your partner then repeats the observation back to you, word for word and with the same inflection. The most important part during all phases of this exercise is to actively listen to your partner. Don’t worry about the words themselves or their meaning, just the delivery. If anything changes in your partner’s tone or phrasing, try to match it. 

Actor 1: Your eyes are blue. 
Actor 2: Your eyes are blue. 
Actor 1: Your eyes are blue. 
Actor 2: Your eyes are blue. 
Actor 1: Your eyes are blue. 

The next step of the exercise is to respond to your partner with your own point of view. Allow yourself to respond instinctively to your partner’s tone and delivery. 

Actor 1: Your eyes are blue. 
Actor 2: My eyes are blue. 
Actor 1: Your eyes are blue?
Actor 2: My eyes are blue. 

The goal is to advance to the next and most complex version of the repetition exercise, in which the back-and-forth is a complex dialogue dictated completely by both actors observing their partner. The idea is, by this point, you are out of your own head and reacting only to what is presented to you. 

Actor 1: Your eyes are blue. 
Actor 2: My eyes are blue. 
Actor 1: Your eyes are too blue. 
Actor 2: [shifts in their chair] My eyes are too blue?
Actor 1: You’re uncomfortable. 
Actor 2: I am uncomfortable. 
Actor 1: [laughs] You are uncomfortable. 
Actor 2: You think that’s funny. 
Actor 1: [grinning and looking away] I don’t think that’s funny. 
Actor 2: You’re lying.


Improv master Viola Spolin developed a series of theater games to help actors be present in the moment and express themselves freely. One of these exercises is called Gibberish, which asks you to tell a story using nonsense words while your scene partner interprets what you’re saying based on your physicality and inflection. 

There are more advanced ways to play with this technique that add more scene partners. In one version, two actors carry on a conversation while a third translates what they’re saying. In another, actors play out a scenario—often suggested by the audience, if you’re improvising live—while an outside observer asks you, at random, to switch between gibberish and English.

The Mirror Game

The mirror game

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Another one of Spolin’s acting exercises is the mirror game. To play, two people stand in front of each other and pretend they are a mirror image of the other. One actor initiates the movement while their partner attempts to copy it exactly. After a while, they switch roles. 

The goal is to not think about the movement beyond the fact your partner is doing it and, therefore, you must copy it. This helps hone your ability to remain actively focused on your scene partners at all times.


The spacewalk is a great way to learn how to use your environment, get comfortable in your own body, and rev up your imagination. The objective is to move through a defined space, staying hyper-aware of the area and how it feels to make a path through it. Then, switch to imaginary environments, paying attention to how those would feel. 

Try some of the following prompts for a few minutes each. 

  • Begin by walking normally. Focus on your environment. 
  • Next, imagine you’re walking through mud. Think about how it would feel, how your body would move, and the level of difficulty. For example, you might walk more slowly because it’s causing your shoes to stick. 
  • Now, pretend you’re stepping across stones in a lake. Go through the same observations. 
  • Then, pretend you’re moving through freezing cold snow.

Character Walk


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This exercise is similar to doing a spacewalk, but you turn your attention to character creation. The idea is to walk from one point to another as someone other than yourself. Think about how that character’s specific background, personality, and given circumstances affect how they walk.  

If you’re alone, write down several prompts and set a timer to do each one. If you have a partner, one person can create the prompts as you go. 

Try some of the following prompts for a few minutes each. 

  • Walk like a fashion model.
  • Walk like a dancer.
  • Walk like a famous actor.
  • Walk like a football player.
  • Walk like a CEO.
  • Walk like a soldier.

For a more advanced version, add context to each character.

  • Walk like a high school sophomore who just won the lottery.
  • Walk like a basketball player who just lost $10,000.
  • Walk like a tourist in a city you’ve never seen.

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