Uta Hagen’s 6 steps for building a character

Uta Hagen was a highly respected actress and acting teacher. Her two popular books, Respect for the Actor and A Challenge for the Actor are legendary bibles on the craft. I highly recommend both.

In Challenge, on page 134, she lists the six questions she asks herself when preparing a part. These are conveniently categorized as her “6 Steps”, and I’ve listed them below. I’ve used these in acting classes and they are excellent to utilize during the primary stages of character development.
These six questions create a terrific tool that any director should introduce to his actors.

  1. WHO AM I?

    1. What is my present state of being?
    2. How do I perceive myself?
    3. What am I wearing?
  2. WHAT ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES?

    1. What time is it? (The year, the season, the day? At what time does my selected life begin?)
    2. Where am I? (In what city, neighborhood, building, and room do I find myself? Or in what landscape?)
    3. What surrounds me? (The immediate landscape? The weather? The condition of the place and the nature of the objects in it?)
    4. What are the immediate circumstances? (What has just happened, is happening?  What do I expect or plan to happen next and later on?
  3. WHAT ARE MY RELATIONSHIPS?

    1. How do I stand in relationship to the circumstances, the place, the objects, and the other people related to my circumstances?
  4. WHAT DO I WANT?

    1. What is my main objective?  My immediate need or objective?
  5. WHAT IS MY OBSTACLE?

    1. What is in the way of what I want?  How do I overcome it?
  6.  WHAT DO I DO TO GET WHAT I WANT?

    1. How can I achieve my objective?  What’s my behavior? What are my actions?