Robert Cohen: GOTEsheet & Beats

(Not that kind of goat.)

As with everything on this webpage, this is an (over)simplified introduction to the ideas of experts in the field. Information here is annotated summary of information in the book Acting One, second edition. By Robert Cohen. Published in 1992 by Mayfield Publishing Company. Pages 54-55, Pages 191-199

Robert Cohen 1938 –

  • dramatikker og pedogog
  • han har en stor innflytelse innen skuespillerutdanning blant amerikanske universiteter


Background: Basic information about the character

Marital Status and history:
Educational level:
Economic/social class:

1. Goal: what do I really want? When do I want it?

2. Other: From whom (in the play) do I want it? Who in the play can help me? Who in the play can hurt me? Who is an obstacle? Why? What are my deepest fears?

3. Tactics: How can I get it? How (and whom) can I threaten? How (and whom) can I induce?

4. Expectation: Why di I expect to get it? Why does it excite me? What will I do when I get it?

You may answer impressionistically or in lists but answer vividly, not academically.

Ren’s very brief (and freely interpreted) summary of Cohen’s advice on scene structure (Lesson 23) in Acting One:

A French scene: defined by a character’s entrance or exit. 

A beat: Stansislavski described small bits of action or “sub-scenes”. A beat is a “unit of action in which the actor employs a single tactic”. The actor’s tactic will either be successful (which requires a new goal/objective/want/”mål” or not successful (which requires a new tactic). 

Beats should not be thought of regular units of time (as in musical beats), but rather varying beats – long, short, energetic, languishing… The way an actor (and/or director) chooses to create beats (sub-scenes) in a scene drives the dramaturgy of the scenes, and of the play as a whole. 

Each beat is likely to have what we have referred to as Aristotelian dramaturgic curve: “inciting action, climax, and resolution”. It follows that each beat (sub-scene) contains a kind of sub-climax for the larger scene.

Cohen describes “moments” as silent beats. I see no reason to use another term here. The actor and/or director should just remember that not all beats require text. In fact, you should – when appropriate – experiment to include physical actions that comprise beats that do NOT rely on text. 

Cohen suggests that transitions should be “sharp”, rather than “muddy” so that they are clear to the audience. We use the term “ekspresivitet“.

I recommend that a change in the visual image is used to help sharpen transitions: “nytt taktikk, nytt mål, nytt følelse: nytt scenebilde”.

Til og med Tom Hanks snakker om “beats” når han snakker om skuespillerarbeid.

Jeff Corey’s technique for working physically with metaphorical descriptions in the rehearsal process.