Prepare as an Actor: An Easy Guide to Bookwork

shutterstock_1389384272Especially in the whirlwind world of film and television, it’s easy to get into the habit of applying the lightning round scoring techniques of a cold read. But eventually you’ll book that project that requires a deep dive, and when you do, it’s important to have the skills in place to beat out a script. So whether you’re brushing the dust off your technique or looking for a fresh routine, here are some tips for conducting thorough bookwork.


  • Read Through. Before you dive into character work, you want a complete sense of the story. Set the pencil aside and just read the material through for enjoyment. Get the big picture. 
  • First Pass. Before getting into the nitty gritty of scoring a script, I like to go through and jot down first impressions. Free yourself from any self-judgment and take note of what hits you in the gut. For me it can be phrases, adjectives, as ifs, even imagery or animals that give me emotional clues within scenes. This is also a good time to circle and look up any words, places, names or phrases you’re unfamiliar with.
  • Beats and Units. Time to get back to basics. Tracking the flow and build of each scene is essential, and breaking things down into beats and units is a great way to do that. If you’re feeling unsure, remember beats often change when tactics change, while units are more likely to change with the arrival of new characters or important information. 
  • Objectives, Tactics, Obstacles. Once you’ve got the structure worked out, it’s time to fill in all those yummy character details. Objectives (what you want/need in a scene), tactics (how you try to get it), and obstacles (what’s getting in your way), are the building blocks of a fully realized performance. Get specific and emotional in your language. Remember, these tools are meant to inspire you, not fulfill someone else’s expectations.
  • Get it on its Feet. While we are strictly talking about bookwork this go round, putting any piece on its feet is invaluable for gathering flow and inspiration. See what new developments just speaking the lines while walking around your apartment can inspire.
  • Collaborate. The prep will continue throughout the life of the project. Once you begin collaborating with scene partners and directors, new ideas and perspectives are bound to take shape. Be flexible in your approach. Revise as needed. Remember that bookwork is a launchpad, not an edict.


This outline is just one of many ways you can approach bookwork. Your preferences may change and grow from project to project and throughout your career. Remember that all the elements of bookwork are tools, to be used in a way that helps you. Seek what lends you inspiration and focus.. Once you find stimulation and specificity, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

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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

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