If you’ve ever taken an acting class, you may have been instructed to “have a moment before.” But what does that really look like? Also called a pre-beat, a moment before is exactly what it sounds like: the moment that precedes the start of the scene. While it can be text-based, the actor often has to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
Why is it important?
A strong pre-beat can make or break an audition. Those first thirty seconds are so crucial to hooking a casting director — you don’t want to spend them warming up into the scene. A pre-beat acts as an emotional springboard. Even if you’re working with a reader, it is likely you won’t have someone giving you the emotional stimulus to support an organic reaction. So you have to find that stimulus yourself.
It’s not just auditions, either. Any time you enter a scene, you need to know where you’re coming from, what just happened, and how it affected you. Get specific about why you’re entering a scene, and what you’re fighting for. You want to be walking into a scene with a perspective. Life doesn’t suddenly start when you walk into a new room.
Where do you start?
If you’re struggling to craft a moment before, it might be helpful to write it out. Sit down and really imagine, beat by beat, where your character is coming from. Journal it if that helps. Really dig into the sensory imagery. Break down how it makes your character feel. If your character is coming from somewhere where there were other people, what is the last thing that was said to you?
If the text doesn’t provide these details, feel free to make them up. You can make an educated guess based on your knowledge of the script and the character. If you’re struggling, go back to the scene that is about to happen. What is your objective in that scene? What are your character’s expectations coming into the scene? What is the arc of the scene? Trace these clues back to the beginning of the scene to see where your character needs to start, and craft a pre-beat that will set you up for that. Remember, it’s about making the strongest choice, not getting mired down in details.
As with any actor homework, the audience won’t see the prep work. Eventually you will find a way to condense your work into emotional shorthand. A pre-beat is a tool for you. It is to make sure you start any given scene from a place that is specific, active and grounded. Don’t stress out over getting it “right.” Choose something that works for you.
What makes a pre-beat “strong?”
To summarize, a strong pre-beat is one that is specific, grounded, emotionally charged, and gives the actor both a clear idea of where they are coming from and a clear set of expectations coming into the scene. A strong pre-beat sets you up to fight for your objective. Find what works for you and set yourself up for success!