Pre-Beat the System: Craft Your “Moment Before”

In past posts, we’ve touched briefly on the importance of crafting your pre-beat, or “moment before” in an audition or scene. But what exactly does that entail?

A pre-beat refers to what happens to your character right before he opens his mouth to speak. If you’re auditioning with a monologue, the piece is taken out of context. The auditors might not know or see the pre-beat, but it is important for you to know it as an actor, and anyone watching will definitely see the results.

Why is it so important you ask? Well, it provides a spring board from which to launch the piece. Without a solid pre-beat, your piece will lack motivation and drive in those first crucial moments, and by the time you warm up into it, you’ve already given the auditors space to lose interest.

Knowing your moment before extends beyond auditions. It is of the utmost importance in film, when you have to keep track of your character’s arc and stakes while filming scenes out of order. It is even vital in theatre. Every time you enter a scene, you should know where you are coming from and what you were doing. Every time you speak, whether or not the audience sees what happened to you directly prior, it should be a reaction to something. Crafting a strong moment before will create character continuity and keep the audience entrenched in the world of the story.

Soooooo . . . how does one concoct this magic? If you are in the middle of a scene, it is as easy as genuinely listening to what your scene partner has to say, and letting it affect you. If you are entering a new scene, or delivering a monologue, it requires a little more effort.

As with many things acting-related, research is the first step! Know the script. Track where your character is in the story. If you are auditioning with a monologue or scene, read the full script and go ahead and write the preceding line in above your first words. As you take your first breath, let yourself briefly experience what that invisible person has said to you, and let your first line be your reaction. Don’t go crazy—a pre-beat is internal knowledge and intention, not its own pantomime.

In addition to what has been said to your character, keep in mind your environment. Where are you physically? What is the temperature? What were you doing before you entered this scene?  Who were you with? Most importantly, why did you leave the unwritten scene you were in and what are you coming to do? Let all of that information propel you into the scene you enter, and then absorb the changing atmosphere. How is the scene you just entered different from the one you left? Are the changes expected or unexpected? Welcome or unwelcome? If there are other people in this new scene, how does your relationship with those characters affect how much your character reveals of her reaction to these changes?

A pre-beat is a tiny thing. It can literally be a moment. But it makes all the difference in the world.  In an audition it is a propeller that telegraphs polish and professionalism (and alliteration, apparently). In film or theatre, it stitches the scenes of an actor’s performance together into a believable whole. Don’t ignore this little bit of preparation. Have fun with it!

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com