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Playwriting & Acting Exercise: Channel that Fear

Fear is such a wonderful motivator for characters – with both positive and negative connotations. How many of us know someone who won’t do something because of fear? Who won’t get on stage, or get on an airplane? Who won’t make life changes because they fear the outcome? And on the other side, how many of us know someone who works to counter a fear – a fear of turning out like their parents? Or a fear of becoming poor? These are the traits that make characters three-dimensional and interesting.

And what about that climactic moment when a character decides to stand up and face their fear? What an exciting moment! When they stand up to their overbearing boss, or jump off the cliff, or walk out the door. The possibilities are endless.

You take a fear, be it emotional or physical (e.g. failure, losing one’s looks, animals, being buried alive) answer questions about the origin of the fear (is this fear real or irrational?) and then start writing.

What else could you use fear for in the drama classroom? Be sure to check out the Character Fear list available to download at the end of this article. Use the grid in the following exercises:

Doctor, Doctor: A scene for two actors: A student picks a fear without telling anyone. Another student acts as a “doctor” and has to interview the first student about their fear. The aim of the game is for the doctor to guess the fear.

First Date: A scene for three actors. Two students pick a fear. They don’t share their fear with each other, but they do with the third actor. They then improv a first date at a restaurant, with the third student playing the waiter. The goal for the couple is never to reveal their fear. The goal of the third actor is to do whatever he/she can to make it impossible for the couple not to reveal their fear. For example, if the fear is fear of flying, the waiter would initiate a conversation about a horrible plane crash. 

Fear Club: A scene for six actors. Everyone picks a fear without revealing it. They are all at a meeting of Fear Club. For the sixth actor it’s his first meeting. His job is to guess everyone else’s fear. Everyone else must act out their fear, but they’re not allowed to directly say their fear. (For example, if someone is afraid of failure, they can’t say the words – “I’m afraid of failure.” They have to come up with lines that suggest the fear.)

*This exercise is based on and shared from an original article on The How To Write Shop

Download the character fear list here!
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