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Michael Shurtleff’s

12 Guideposts:
Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part

A roadmap to creating honest, truthful

behavior…in an audition setting.
12 Guideposts
1. Relationship, or the heart of all acting
2. Conflict, or what am I fighting for?
3. Moment Before , or how to start the scene
4. Humor, or finding the humanity in the scene
5. Opposites, or the unexpected choice
6. Discoveries, or what you learn for the first time in the scene
7. Communication & Competition, or reaching the other actor
8. Importance, or raising the stakes
9. Find the Events, or points of no return/moments of change.
10. Place, or how to create environment on a bare stage
11. Game playing & Role Playing, or the rules of the relationship
12. Mystery & Secret, or the stuff you don’t know
- Cue chorus of angels –
Start with the question: What is my relationship with the other character in the scene?

STEP 1: Figure out the facts.

Investigate the text. Make your LISTS:
1. The facts – pretty dry (the non-negotiable, the cut and dry, i.e. mother/son, husband/wife)
2. What do I say about myself?
3. What do I say about my other?
4. What does my other say about me?

STEP 2: Jump on the facts and make inferences. Explore how you feel about this other person
and what your expectations are.
What do you expect the other to do in the scene based on what s/he has always
done before?
Do you love him? Do you hate him? (Remember: The thing you love most about the person you’re with
is often the thing you hate most about the person you’re with…)
Do you resent him? Why? How does your history together inform what’s happening now?
Do you trust him? Do you feel emotionally and physically safe?
What’s really going on between you vs what the words say? What’s the subtext? How do you really feel
about the other person? Where does that feeling live in your body?
What color is the relationship? What’s the dominant emotional color?
Start with yourself. You are enough. Think:
“This is me under imaginary circumstances.”
Every relationship you have on stage is a LOVE relationship. And in every LOVE
relationship, you have a point of view about the other person.
1. Husband/Wife
2. Siblings (Sister/Brother, Best friends)
3. Parent/child (Teacher/student, therapist/patient, boss/employee)
4. Lovers

This is why we always ask: “Where is the love in the scene?” It’s what keeps
you in the room.
Finally, ask: What relationship from my own life is this scene like? This is how
you can relate to the character and bring yourself to the role.
Written Exploration
Directions: Pick a LOVE relationship from your own life,
a present, personal relationship that you encounter
on a daily basis; someone who elicits a high
emotional response from you.
Do an automatic writing about this person.
Start with the facts, then explore the feelings – all
of them: the good and the bad.
Ask the big questions that we just asked and
challenge yourself to provide honest answers.
Start with the question:
What is my dream in the world of this play?
Then, ask: How is the person opposite me going to either help me or hinder
me from achieving my dream today?
In other words, if everything went perfectly, how would all of this go for me?
Make it BIG & VIVID & SPECIFIC! The dream creates the conflict in the play.
In every scene, ask: What do I need: what am I fighting for in this
relationship? And what gets in my way: what interferes with me getting
what I need? What is the problem with the other person in the scene that
prevents me from getting my way?

I am trying to make _________________ feel/do_________________ in

order to get______________________.
I am trying to make _______________________ understand
__________________in order to get___________________.
Ask: What is the problem with this human being that has
always been the problem with him? Hint, hint: The
problem with them will get in the way of me achieving
my dream. The problem creates the conflict.
After making your “relationship lists,” make a list of the
problems I have with my other.
Once I identify the problem, I can figure out how I want to
change them, or what I am fighting for.
Once I figure out what I am fighting for, I can figure out my
actions, or tactics.
Written Exploration: Identify your biggest dream. (Make it
big and specific!) Now, think of someone you love. Make
a list of all the problems with this person that get in the
way of you achieving your big dream.
- Keep it positive.
- Find the strongest, most active goal possible.
- Plays are not written about the everyday or the humdrum but
about the extraordinary, the unusual, the climaxes.
- Look for maximum conflict. In life, we avoid conflict. In plays, we
seek it out.
- VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE! Ask: Who is interfering with me
getting what I am fighting for? Do battle with her, fight her, woo
her, charm her, belittle her. Find as many ways as you can to go
about getting what you’re fighting for. The more you find, the
more interesting the performance will be.
- Play ping pong. Most scenes are way too slow. Return the serve
IMMEDIATELY or you lose. There is no time to stop and think.
- Play like a winner. In any scene, you must have at least some
hope of getting what you want, so fight like hell to get it.
Every scene you will ever act begins in the middle and it is up to you to provide
what comes before.
• It’s what you start with. The first step is your emotional
preparation. This can be based on imagination, abstract, concrete,
whatever it takes. It is your preparation. It has to jump-start the
scene. It helps you come in warm, and not cold.
• The second step is based on your given circumstances. It is the first
action you play in your scene before the words come out.
• It has to do with HISTORY. Choose something based on the history
with your other and your expectations of what they are going to say
or do. (i.e. He is going to try to cut me off because he always cuts
me off, so I am going to get everything out quickly and in one
• Don’t wait for the “good part”; make a strong, big, exciting choice
• The moment before incorporates relationship, the big dream, the
problem with the other, the fight she’s about to have, etc.
The most essential ingredient to any relationship and the one most often left
out by actors.
• Find the humor in every scene, in every beat, in every
• It’s not about jokes; rather, it’s an attitude about being
alive without which you would long ago have jumped
off a bridge.
• Humorless acting is the dreariest kind: it is the
hallmark of soap-opera acting and Greek tragedy.
• Sometimes we lighten the burden for others because
of the weight of what we’re dumping on them and
sometimes we lighten the burden for ourselves. Either
way, the heavier the situation, the more we are in need
of humor to get through it.
“Whatever you decide your motivation is in the scene,
the opposite is also true and should be in it.”
It’s the unexpected choice. It’s the hidden ingredient.
“Consistency is the heart of dull acting.”
“It is the process of dealing with pain the actor must
put on the stage, not the fact of having solved it.”
Fight the tears and the audience will cry for you.
Struggle against the sorrow and the audience will
feel empathy. (Remember Jason Tam?)
Don’t play the obvious – play the opposite.
MONOLOGUE. (Ex. I love him but I hate him)


when you want to cry.
Every scene must be filled with discoveries, or things that happen for
the first time. The A-HA moments!
We don’t want to see you already know something – we want to see
you figure it out right in front of our eyes. That is more dramatic.
Discoveries can be made:
• About the other character
• About yourself
• About someone offstage
• About the situation that is happening right now
• About a situation years ago and how it impacts the now
“Take nothing for granted; make an emotional discovery as often as
you can find one in every scene.”
Most often the discoveries aren’t written on the surface of the script;
the actor has to dig in the subtext to find them.

If a feeling, opinion, or idea is not communicated, it
doesn’t matter. If a tree falls in the woods…
Communication is a circle; not a one-way street.
1) Make sure the message is clear.
2) Make sure the receiver has received the
3) If the circle is not complete, you can’t move on.
You must know how your (invisible) partner reacts
to everything you say and how it pinches you to
say the next moment/proceed to the next
beat/change your tactic.
QUESTION: Why is this hard in a monologue?
• Communication is much more than the
exchanging of words. It is based on the need to
be heard by your partner and the hope that what
he hears from you will make a difference in your
relationship. Communication is the desire to
change the other person.
• Ask yourself: Am I sending out and getting back
feelings, or am I just talking?
• In life, we tend to talk at people instead of to
them. We tend to hide feelings and expect others
to dig them out of us. We don’t want to do this
• Receiving the feelings of others requires that we
be open and willing.
Competition is life. Competition is healthy.
“We compete for everything: to tell the funniest story; to
be considered the most truthful or sincere, the
prettiest, the sexiest, the most reliable, the best
friend. We compete for a place in line, for enough to
eat, for jobs, for parts, for love, for affection, for
friends, for lovers. There isn’t anything for which we
don’t compete.”
In every scene, think:
1) I am right and you are wrong.
2) You should change from being the way you are to be
what I think you should be.
“Plays are written about the most important moments in
people’s lives, not about their everyday
Food for thought: Beware that your desire to be truthful
doesn’t lead to “flat,” “small,” and “safe” acting. We
want truth in our acting but the truth is not enough if it
is neither dramatic nor interesting nor unique (crafted).
Important doesn’t mean significant to others, it means
emotionally important to you in this moment.
Make the stakes in each scene as high as you can. Look
for maximum importance!
For every scene or monologue, ask : “What happens in this scene? What changes for
the characters? Why is this scene in the play?” There has to be a reason.
A play must constantly progress. One event leads to another which leads to another,
etc, like dominoes. If nothing happens in the scene, the scene dies. The dominoes
stop. The actor must keep a lookout for the changes in the scene – there are many.
The more you craft, the more alive the scene is.
Events are about CHANGE; a change can be:
• Secretive or hidden
• Clear, outright and obvious.
3 types of events – mark with an E1, E2, or E3 in a circle in your script:
1. A domino event: one event causes another (what had to happen in order for this
to now happen)
2. The point in time when a relationship is forever changed (a character reveals
something to another character and that relationship will never be the same)
3. A change in inner landscape of the character; a discovery; an A-HA! (Oedipus
finally knows the truth
Events, importance, and discoveries go hand in hand.
Where does the play take place?
Place is also FACT + FEELING. (Rabbit Hole ex.)
We feel differently in different places. We carry ourselves
differenlty based on where we are. It’s not enough to say the
scene takes place in a classroom. Which classroom?
DO NOW: Describe how this space feels vs. your math classroom vs.
your english classroom, etc.
Often, when actor audition, you can’t tell where they are b/c they
don’t know. In an audition, you are in a bare, foreign space; so
substitute a REAL place you know from your own life.
Always consider: who holds the power in this place?
I am always myself, but for each situation in life, I play a
different role because it is a different game.
In every scene, ask:
• What is the game I am playing in this situation?
• What role do I assume in order to best play this game?
The answer depends on the circumstance: what people
want from you, what you want from them, what you
expect, who holds the power, etc.
All game-playing demands score-keeping: the opponents
need to keep track of who won and lost each round in
the fight, just as you would in any sport. Play to win!
Excerpt from text: “Take the example of the relationship of son
to father and mother. You may be willing to play the role of
son because it is required of you, yet when the
requirements set by your parents become too demanding,
you want to cast aside the role of son and assert yourself in
a new role: that of rebel. You become independent, and, of
course, your parents protest this new role. They don’t want
a rebel, they want a son. You don’t want to be just the son
when you grow up; you want to be your individual. The
result: conflict. Drama…
If you play the role of son to your parents, you don’t play that
role with your girlfriend: what would she want with a son?
She wants a lover. So you play that role because it is the
role she wants from you.”
Every relationship we have demands a different role.
Every situation we are in is a game with different rules.
The rules of the game tell us how to act in our real life
situations; they also tell actors how to “act” on stage.
After you’ve done all eleven guideposts, then add in what you don’t know!

Think of the BIG questions that no one living on earth can definitely
answer (through scientific proof/evidence):
• What makes us love certain people?
• Is there a God?
• Is there life after death? What does that look like?
These questions eternally remain mysteries! So it is with any
relationship: no matter how much we know about the other person,
there is always something going on in that other heart and head
that we don’t know and can only ponder. And, no matter how we
explain ourselves to someone else, no matter how open we are,
there is always something hidden and unknown in us, too.

Add wonderment to your work – about yourself and your other.

What is a secret? There are many varieties:
1. You can have a true secret that you never tell anyone and
never want anyone to know.
2. You can have a secret and want the other person to know
you have a secret, even though you won’t tell what it is.
3. You can have a secret you want the other person to know
you have, so they’ll ask you what it is; and you’ll
eventually tell when they coax it out of you enough!
We have insatiable curiosity about other people’s secrets; we
almost always want to know what they are.
We are also mysterious to ourselves, often asking “Why did I
do that?”
Find the secrets in the scene that you are keeping and those
that you wonder about your other.
And, now that you know all the Guideposts, you are
all-knowing and will land any part your heart
desires for the rest of your lives!
(Remember, whatever is true in the scene, the
opposite is also true and must also be in the

The 12 GP’s are merely a roadmap; it’s up to you

now to take the journey…