"What do I want, and how am I going to get it?".
Last time, we examined the objective. It is a guiding principle in examining our character, to understand what we he wants, what drives him, what makes him tick. Now our character knows who he is and what he wants, but how on earth is he going to get it?
Well, how do you get anything in life? You have to take action and do something, and once you've completed that action, you move onto the next thing. Actions are what we do to get what we want. So if you were hungry, you might want to get an orange. For arguments sake, we'll say there are two actions involved this: 'to climb a tree', and 'to pick an orange'. But this is only half the battle; you still need to achieve these actions somehow to complete your action so as to fulfill your objective. This is where you discover your activities.
I use the word 'discover' deliberately, but more on that later. For now, we'll focus simply on what is an activity. If an action is 'what we do' to achieve an action, then an activity is 'how we achieve it'. In a sense, whilst we know what we're going to do, we still need to discover (again, discovery is vital) a way to achieve our action. So, if you want to climb a tree, you'd place a ladder against the tree as your first activity; then you'd test the ladder by pressing against it; you'd climb up ladder finally. Notice this are all transitive verbs. To pick your orange can simply involve two activities: to stretch your arm, and to pick an orange. Something you must bear in mind is that your goal is to achieve your action. Do not lie to the audience and pretend or 'act' as if you want an orange - you must want an orange and you must do everything you can to get it, pursue as many activities as possible. You'll be surprised how naturally everything else (posture, tone, pitch, gestus, etc) comes once you're focused on your action and also how, with practice, your activities will come to you.
Now, of course, once you understand the importance of actions and activities and where they come from, you still need to know how plan for them in rehearsals. In real life, we might know our objective, we might not - we might know what we want or we might not, but subconsciously, we still want something. It is even rarer that people know their actions consciously and all the better really. You'd become neurotic from analysing every single action you did in life. During rehearsals however, it is important to plan out our objectives and actions, so that we can achieve them. A good tool is a thesaurus. If you're stuck for a good transitive verb to describe what you want to do, look up the closest verb you can think of and search from there. An excellent tool for this, which I use extensively, is at the bottom of this write up. Whatever you do, you need to come up with actions.
Read through the text, understand where the actions change, and mark them as 'beats', like you would in music. At each beat, change your action. These beats should come in the text at the same as your character achieving his action. So, once he professes the love for a girl he likes, his action changes if the text says that he is now doing something different, like trying to apologise for his outburst.
Now, this creates our skeleton for our character and as good as it might seem already, the spark of life is missing from him however. We are creatures of choice, and each choice factors in cause and effect from a previous choice. Every choice we make leads to another choice. Each action is a decision we make in rehearsal. By this token, it seems we should map out our activities too, right? Wrong.
Actors and directors differ on many points of theory relating to acting. Some will say you must map out your activities. Whilst still retaining a sense of creativity, it is not explorative, organic or fun. Whilst the more literary minded might have great fun dissecting the script in theory form (and they might be very good at it), most people do not have an immediate source of transitive verbs to pull from. This is what rehearsal is for - to discover how you're going to do everything. Let's say you know what your objective is: to become the King of Scotland. You enter a scene and your first action is to mourn, for all the killing you have done. You should spend sometime exploring how to mourn. Just try different activities that you could do (to curse, to grovel, to pray, to admire). Bear in mind the words that are spelt above the gates that lead into the wonderland which is method acting: "Think, not what would I do, but what could I do".
You would also do well to remember that punctuation is your friend, and that you should aim to achieve an activity with each sentence. An activity could last more than one sentence, but it is best to remember another rule for this, "One sentence, one breath, one thought". Think of each sentence as a thought that comes to you on how to achieve your action and try to achieve it with one breath. If you have, a very long, sentence, broken up with many, many, commas for example, it can suggest a lot about how, you will, be achieving your activity. Similarly, short sentences? They have their effect. Treat the punctuation like an obstacle which dictates how you're going to solve a problem. You will act differently when pushing through trees than you will when pushing through a crowd of naked people.
Everything in life happens for a reason. Effect leads on from cause. Thought comes from each thought before. Your actions and activities are no different. Think about what you want and how you will achieve it, and most of all, once you make a decision, stick with it 100%. Don't go for a half-arsed attempt at chopping a tree. Really focus on just doing it right. And hey, if you stress it too much too much, you can tone it down during rehearsals.
The tool mentioned above is a comprehensive book of transitive verbs, produced for the very purpose of coming up with actions. However, it uses different terminology in the little intro at the beginning. What I call 'activities', it calls 'actions', and what I call 'actions', it calls 'objectives'. Just a warning you might get a bit confused bearing in mind what I have just said and then reading the introduction to this book. It can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Actions-Actors-Thesaurus-Marina-Caldarone/dp/0896762521