And over the years I have learned many acting exercises but there is one technique that gives some of the most powerful exercises. And that is Uta Hagen acting exercises!
Almost all of the actors have heard of her or own her acting book Respect for Acting ( Buy Now from Amazon).
If you are looking for exercises to improve your acting or to get into acting, I would suggest beginning with these Uta Hagen acting exercises.
They will give an understanding of the art of acting.
Let’s dive into it.
Seven Powerful Uta Hagen Acting Exercises To Improve Acting
If you dive deep into the Uta Hagen technique you would find lots of fascinating acting tips and tricks. But if you just add these Uta Hagen exercises to your process, it would do a hell of a good to your acting.
With the help of these Uta Hagen acting exercises, I have condensed the essence of the Uta Hagen technique.
1. Object Exercise
I love this exercise as it gives instant material to practice.
You don’t need any scene, brief, or script.
Using this exercise you will have to recreate the 2 minutes of your life.
Sounds fun right!
Yes, it is.
The 2 minutes don’t have to be an intense instance like a happy moment or sad moment.
It has to be a simple routine like cooking, cleaning, or simply getting ready to go out.
The reason behind this exercise is to give you a close understanding of the objective.
In each scene you do in a film, show, or theater, there is a hidden objective behind it.
Even if the scene is about you walking down the street, it has to reflect your objective.
Exactly this is what Uta Hagen object exercise does.
So how do you do the object exercises?
Please follow these directions:
1. Choose the Moment
The first steps is to choose the 2 minutes of your recent life.
Let me tell you again, it has to be simple not some complicated emotional moments.
Choose the simplest moments and you will realize even they can be complicated to recreate.
So it is best to go with some simple moments.
2. Answer These Questions
To do this exercise, Uta Hagen has laid out some simple questions which you need to answer before creating the moment.
Following are the questions:
- Who am I?
- What time is it?
- Where am I?
- What surrounds me?
- What are the given circumstances?
- What is my relationship?
- What do I want?
- What’s in my way?
- What do I do to get what I want?
3. Once you answer these questions you will understand what the objective is for your 2- minute scene.
If you want more questions to understand the character get asdf
4. Now keeping this objective in mind, try to recreate the 2-minutes of your life. Keep the same props and situations that you had in real life.
Play it around. I advise you to tweak the exercise a little depending on your experience as an actor.
You might have some tips or tricks that work for you while doing the scene, add that here if possible.
2. Three Entrance
This is one of my favorite Uta Hagen exercises to do since it teaches you to convey things without sayings.
That’s what I believe a true actor should be able to do!
I had a lot of issues entering the scene.
Like any other amature actor I used to be worried about starting the scene with a bang!
But it was all my nervousness that would show up at the starting of the scene instead of my preparation.
And it was criticized for that a lot.
But as soon as I started applying these three entrances to my scenes, it solved my issue.
What is it?
Three entrances exercise is nothing but knowing and showing where you are coming from, where you are going to, and what you would do first after coming.
These are the three simple questions that you have to answer while executing the exercise.
So how do you apply this Uta Hagen acting exercise?
Follow these directions:
The first thing you have to do is answer where you are coming from.
It will tell you a lot of things like what is your physical and emotional condition.
For instance, you are coming from an amazing run at the park, you would be exhausted but happy.
For instance, you are coming from snow and you don’t like snow, you will be pissed and covered in snow.
So according to the script, find where you are coming from.
The next question you have to answer is where you are going?
You could be going to the office, home, bus stop, grocery store, camping, date, etc.
Depending on the location you are going to, you would react.
If you like where you are going, you would be relaxed and happy.
If you don’t like it, you will be sad, anxious, or frustrated.
The next question you have to answer is what you will do first after reaching the place.
If you are going to the office, you might want to have a chat with your boss or secretary to know the work for the day.
If you are going on a date, you might want to greet your date in a way that shows you charm.
If you are going to a supermarket, you might want to pick up the most important thing first.
And so on…
When you know the answer to these three questions, just try to reflect it in your entrance.
To do this exercise I would suggest getting an acting partner. So that you can get a feed.
Both should prepare for entrance. Do not tell each other what you are preparing.
Just perform it in front of your partner and ask him to guess where you are coming from, and where you are going.
3. The Fourth Wall
We all actors have gone through a phase where we were scared to face the audience or the camera.
I used to be shaking just before the performance. Be it camera or audience.
Also, I used to be conscious of not looking at someone in the audience during plays.
Just before the performance, I would plan out where I would look during the performance.
And that was not good!
Uta Hagen’s exercise, the fourth wall helps you fight this fear.
At least for me, it was like that.
It gives you not only where you would look but also improves your performance to a great extent.
What is the fourth wall?
The fourth wall is an imaginary wall behind which there is either an audience or camera.
And as an actor, you are always looking at the camera but imagining there is something else.
According to Uta Hagen, you are supposed to imagine there is an actual wall instead of the audience or camera.
And this wall should include things that are related to the scene.
For example, if it is the bedroom of the character you are playing, it has to have things like a character’s photograph, maybe books he reads, some artwork, etc.
Anything that character would keep in his bedroom.
When you are playing the scene, if you focus on these imaginary things you would create a much believable performance and it won’t feel as if you are avoiding the camera or audience.
I would suggest you learn everything about the character before you begin this exercise.
You can use my 100 questions to build a leaving breathing character worksheet to find out things about the character.
Because you know the character inside out, you will be able to sketch out the fourth wall much more efficiently.
Also before you apply the steps, you would tell you to do a small observation exercise.
Whenever you are on a call with someone, see where your eyes go, what you look at, and how far is the object from you.
Now try to imagine these objects in an empty room to see if you can replicate the same gaze.
Use a camera with a tripod to shoot the scene, so that you can review it.
This way you will understand the fourth wall much better and you will know what you need to achieve it while using the fourth wall.
So how do you create a fourth wall for the scene:
Follow these directions:
The first step is to determine what is the location of the scene and what is the current time in the scene.
Once you determine the location, just place simple things that could be there in the room.
Don’t put too many objects because you won’t be looking at them all.
I suggest keeping things that would enhance the scene, rather than keeping objects for focus.
If the scene is about you being late somewhere but obstacles are not allowing you to move out of the room, you can keep a clock on the wall.
Don’t just put the clock there, you should know what is the exact distance from you.
You should know, shape, size, type, and color of the clock.
Also, imagine the time.
Know where is the minute hand, hour hand, and where is the second hand.
I know it is too much detail but once you practice the scene with the fourth wall, it will come naturally to you.
One important thing to know about the objects that you put on your fourth wall, never interacts with them just look at them from a distance.
In theater and films, you are used to using fake objects, but for actors, you need to believe they are real.
There are tons of exercises to help deepen your belief in fake objects.
The endowment is one of those techniques.
Using endowment you will bring reality to the fake objects.
This is done by understanding the physical properties of objects and endowing it on to the fake prop.
This is not complicated as it sounds.
It all depends on how strong your imagination and observation is.
How do you do endowment exercises?
Follow these directions:
Take a small piece of cloth.
Any cloth will do.
Now pick three objects that would want the object to change into.
For understanding, let’s say you pick:
- Coffee cup
Now you have to endow the properties of these chosen objects on cloth.
In simple words, you have to imagine the cloth as these objects.
Let’s say you want to imagine cloth as a coffee cup that is filled with coffee.
If you look at the physical property of the coffee cup it is either hot or cold depending on the content. Also, it is the handle that is at room temperature.
Few more things you can add as a physical property for the coffee cup is steam and the smell of the coffee.
Now endow these physical properties on cloth and imagine it as a hot cup of coffee.
Play with it.
It depends on you how you make the cloth feel like a cup of coffee.
Do the same things with a knife and pencil.
Determine what their physical properties are and how you do you endow them on a piece of cloth.
The more you practice with different objects, the better you will get.
5. Talking To Yourself
This is one great Uta Hagen acting exercise if you want to stay involved in the scene even if there is nothing to do.
In real life, we talk to ourselves all the time.
If someone says, he or she doesn’t talk to himself or herself. They are not crazy!
They are lying.
Only when we are still, we don’t talk to ourselves.
It is just like saying a monologue to ourselves.
You either speak out loud or say it in your mind but you are always talking to yourself.
So how do you do this exercise?
This is a little elaborate exercise. You will have to do it like a scene and probably need to set up some props so that you can actually do some activity.
While doing your activity, you will have to speak out about what you feel.
It doesn’t have to be forced but just blurt out whenever you feel like it.
What this does is it keeps you involved in the scene or the moment.
This exercise is probably the best if you have issues with concentration or being conscious of the audience or the camera.
When you speak to yourself as a character, you don’t allow yourself to go to the real you.
This type of exercise will keep you in character for a long period.
Especially, if you do theater.
So how do you talk to yourself in the scene?
Follow these directions:
Remember this is just for practice not when you are doing a professional play or film.
The first thing you have to do is choose what the setup is.
The scene should be set in such a way that it lasts for at least 10 minutes.
Choose one major activity for the scene.
The activity could be searching for something, getting ready, going through the letters, cleaning the house, etc.
Make sure the activity is such that it allows you to move around.
Do not choose activities like studying, painting, eating, etc. as these activities bound you to one place.
The more you move, the more things you will have to say.
Once you have chosen the activity, define what is the exact objective of the scene.
It may be finding the keys, going through the letters, getting dressed to go out, etc.
And add an element of emotion to it.
You can do that by deciding where you want to go in this scene.
Maybe you are getting ready to go somewhere, just try to think about it while playing the scene.
You can think about whom you are meeting, the location you are going to, what would be needed when you reach there, what is the first thing you will do when you reach.
Once you have done all this, simply set everything up.
Set up a camera or phone on a stand that covers the entire scene.
Or you can ask your friend to shoot you while you are moving so that you can get a real close-up of your performance.
In film and theater, you bring outdoors to indoors.
And as an actor, you have to provide the audience the feel of the outdoor location.
You will have to give a feeling of snow, even if it is not there?
You will have to give the feeling of scorching heat, even if is the air-conditioned auditorium.
You will have to give the feeling of rain, even it dry wooden stage or set.
This exercise is great if you want to work on your senses.
The reason being, it is the thing you do to overcome conditions, lets the audience know what the external conditions are.
Merely thinking about the condition or trying to feel the condition won’t give out any ideas.
It is always in the doing that you let the audience experience what you feel.
Enough of the explanation.
Let’s see how you can do this exercise.
Follow these Directions to do this exercise:
The first step is to choose the external condition or external setup.
you don’t have to choose a complicated set up just think about the location.
you can choose locations like beach, garden, street, woods, etc.
And once you choose the location you have to choose an activity.
Activity can be chosen according to the location.
For instance, you can choose a location like a beach and for the beach, you can choose activities like soaking in the sun or drinking beer or coconut water.
Mind you there is no need for dialogues for this exercise.
Before starting the exercise, you must determine what are the physical stimulus that you experience at the beach.
If it’s sunny you will experience extreme heat and sweat.
If it’s breezy you may try to hang onto your hat.
Don’t forget the sand, it is everywhere.
And there are plenty more physical stimuli that you can find for certain kinds of locations.
Try to discover as many as possible.
If you need a prop get the prop and set them up for the exercise.
Once the setting is done and all the physical stimulus has been determined you can begin the exercise.
Make sure to set up a camera so that you can record the exercise and get feedback from your friends or acting coach.
During the exercise, all you have to do is get involved in the activity while experiencing the physical stimulus.
Don’t try to think about them or feel them.
Rather try to overcome them while doing your activity.
When you are trying to overcome the stimulus make sure you have complete faith in your senses.
Don’t try to hold back.
7. Conditioning Forces
Conditioning forces are nothing but the forces that you experience through your es.
These forces include heat, cold, dirty, pain, wet, dry, etc.
By doing this exercise you will be able to stir up your senses and make it more sensitive.
Senses are the most important tools for an actor. I believe they have to do their best to create a believable best.
For this Uta Hagen exercise, I have changed it a bit because I am a big advocate of the Eric Morris Acting technique which heavily relies on senses.
The core essence is the same as Uta Hagen acting technique, but this way you will be able to make it much better.
So how do you do this conditioning exercise?
Follow these directions to practice the exercise:
The first thing you have to do is find an empty space where you can walk around freely.
If possible move the furniture into a corner and create space if you are doing it at home.
Before you go on to experience the conditioning forces, you should sensitize your senses.
For that do this for few minutes
Start walking and try to feel the floor.
I suggest you do this on barefoot.
Try to feel how is the floor.
Is it cold or hot?
What is the texture?
Don’t try to imagine things in your mind. Your mind should be empty.
Let the sense of touch do its job.
Once you start to feel the floor, try to hear sounds around you.
Just focus your ears on the sounds you hear.
Don’t force yourself.
Also, don’t forget to feel the floor.
Doing this for 5 minutes or so will heighten your senses.
Now choose a simple conditioning force like heat or pain.
For example, I am choosing a sour taste.
For this, you can imagine yourself eating a half-cut lemon.
Using your sense of touch, create a sense that you are holding a lemon in your fingers.
Don’t imagine it in your mind.
Recreate it using only the sense of touch.
Try to get a sense of what it feels like holding a lemon in your hand.
Now add a sense of smell in there.
Get closer to the lemon and try to smell the sour lemon.
Once you are able to create the smell using your sense.
Try to get the bite of it.
Now let the sense of taste get to work.
You should know which part of the tongue is activated when you eat something sour.
It is usually the sides of the tongue that is responsible for the sour taste.
If you have done all things right, your body will react truthfully as if you have eaten an actual lemon.
Try to do it as many times as possible to get a hang of it.
I suggest you get a copy of No Acting Please by Eric Morris.
It is perfect if you want to make your senses more sensitive.
Choose different conditioning forces, to ensure you know them all.
There are few other Uta Hagen acting exercises like history, character action, etc but they are more useful when you are working on a character.
To improve your acting technique, these exercises are more than enough. Just practice them daily and try to improve upon them.