How to Pretend to Die on Stage

Опубликовал Admin
25-09-2016, 12:35
A death scene is one of the most difficult challenges that a stage actor faces. Playing the part too subtlety can leave the scene devoid of emotion, while giving for an over the top performance often makes it difficult for the audience to believe you. The key to an effective death scene is considering the way in which the character dies and tapping into the emotion of the moment, so your co-stars and the audience are all caught up in the scene.

Acting Out a Violent Death

  1. Choreograph the fight. In many cases, when you’re playing a character who dies a violent death, there is a fight that precedes the actual death. Whether your character is killed by a knife, gun, or some type of beating, you may need to engage in a struggle prior to the moment of death. It’s important to understand the action that will lead up to that moment, so neither you or your co-stars are injured.
    • In most plays, the director usually takes care of the details of fights and other choreographed action, but make sure that you understand exactly how the scene will play out and run through it with your co-stars.
    • Not all violent on stage deaths are preceded by a fight. Your character may be stabbed without warning or shot from across the stage. In some cases, your character may be taking his or her own life by violent means, so there isn’t an altercation with another character. It’s still important to ensure that you understand the actions that you must take before the death occurs, so the moment is believable.
  2. Determine what to do at the moment of impact. Depending on the method used to kill your character, the actions that you take can differ. For example, if you character is stabbed, it might be more believable for you to fall forward onto the person stabbing you. On the other hand, if you are shot, the force of the bullet would probably propel you backward. Consider the nature of the death carefully, so you can come up with the most convincing way to react to the death blow.
    • Your director probably has an idea of how you should react at the moment of impact, but make sure that it’s something that feels authentic to you. You won’t be able to sell a convincing death if you don’t believe in the performance yourself.
    • Poisoning is a violent death that doesn’t necessarily have a moment of impact. However, you may want to cough or wretch to sell the death as the poison is starting to take effect. In general, though, less is more, so don’t go overboard with gagging and coughing if you want to be convincing.
    • Certain types of death, such as a hanging, may require special stage directions and effects at the moment of impact. It’s important that you understand all of the technical aspects, so the death is convincing but also to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself.
  3. Collapse to the stage. After your character has been shot, stabbed, beaten, or otherwise injured, you’ll need to collapse to convey that you are dying. In some cases, you may be in another actor’s arms, so your co-star can guide you to the stage. However, if you are standing by yourself, there is no one to slow your fall and you run the risk of injuring yourself. To minimize the impact, consider collapsing in stages. For example, drop to your knees first and then collapse to the stage so you aren't falling as far.
    • Depending on where you are on the stage during the death scene, you may be able to use a piece of scenery or a prop to ease your fall. For example, you might collapse against a table or a column to help slow down the fall.
    • The most convincing way to fall is to allow your body to go limp. Avoid convulsions and other distracting gestures because they usually seem over the top.
  4. Labor through your final lines. If you have lines to recite just before your character dies, you want to deliver them in a convincing way. With a violent death, such as a shooting or stabbing, the trauma associated with it would likely make it difficult for your character to speak. Try to simulate labored breathing and recite the lines in a halting manner before closing your eyes.
    • It’s almost important to consider who your character is saying the final lines to. They should probably come out harsher if you’re speaking to the murderer, as opposed to a friend or loved one.

Acting Out a Non-Violent Death

  1. Find the right position. If your character is dying of natural causes, such as cancer or old age, you’ll likely be in a bed or even a chair for the death scene. However, if your character dies suddenly of a heart attack, you may be standing at the time of death and have to collapse as you would with a violent death. Make sure that you understand the staging, so you can plan how you will act out the moment of death.
    • If your character is dying in bed, loved ones may be gathered around. If that’s the case, it may make sense for you to embrace or hold a co-star’s hand. Check with the director to see what the best approach is.
  2. Determine the amount of pain your character is experiencing. When you’re acting out a natural death, the scene is usually quieter and more subtle. However, death by natural causes can still be painful, so it’s important to have an idea of how much pain your character is in. For example, if you’re playing an older character who dies because his heart stops, you might not experience much pain. On the other hand, if your character dies of a heart attack, you may suffer from intense pain.
    • You can convey pain in a variety of ways, but grimacing and sharp intakes of breath are effective, subtle gestures that usually work well.
    • If your death scene involves a heart attack, you may want to clutch at your chest or arm because that’s where victims usually feel pain.
  3. Deliver your final lines quietly. When you’re playing a character who dies of a natural death, the scene often involves quietly drifting off. If that’s the case, it’s best to deliver your final lines in a low, weak voice to convey how frail your character is. You might whisper the lines or give your voice a throaty quality to indicate impending death.
    • While you want to keep your voice low to make the death scene believable, you shouldn't go for a real life whisper, but a stage whisper so everyone in the theater can hear you. To ensure that you can be heard, practice with a cast or crew member at the back of the theater to check how audible you are.

Playing Out the Aftermath

  1. Choose a convincing final position. In most cases, your character will remain on the stage for a least a few minutes after the death. In order to really sell the death, you should “die” on your stomach or on your side with your back to the audience. That way, it won’t be as obvious that you’re still breathing after your character has supposedly died.
    • It’s important to practice the choreography that places you in your final position for the death. You don’t want to have to roll over or adjust yourself in the middle of the scene.
  2. Keep still. Just because you’re no longer involved in the play’s action doesn’t mean that your work is over. The other cast members need to believe that your character is truly dead, so they can convincingly play the emotions that they go through in the aftermath. That means it’s imperative that you remain still after you’ve “died.” Even something as small as using your thumb to scratch the palm of your hand can pull them out of the moment.
    • If you know that you have difficulty remaining still, talk to the director to see if there is any way to conceal you. For example, it might be appropriate to have the other characters cover you with a sheet. It may also be possible to stage the death so it takes place further back on the stage where they can lower the lights.
  3. Take shallow breaths. Even if you’re concealed under a sheet or dimmed lights, you may still be noticeable to your co-stars, as well as the audience. If you’re breathing deeply, there may be movement that shatters the illusion even if you’re doing your best to remain still. For the few minutes that you have to remain on stage after the death, try to take slow, shallow breaths, as you would if sleeping, so your chest doesn’t move as much.
    • Keeping your mouth closed and breathing through your nose can often help you keep your breathing shallow.
    • Try to take as deep a breath as you can during the actual death scene, so you have some time before you need to breathe deeply again. You can disguise it by gasping or shuddering through it.

Understanding the Context

  1. Consider the genre. When you’re preparing for your death scene, it’s important to take the genre of the play or skit into consideration. If the play is a tragedy, you want to portray the death in a serious way that really ratchets up the emotion. On the other hand, if your play is a comedy, it may call for a more over the top take on the death.
    • If your dealing with the horror genre, building up fear and suspense is also an important part of a death scene. In the moments before the death, you should play the character as terrified, with trembling or shivering, so the audience will feel the fear along with you.
  2. Research the mode of death. If you want to play the death in a convincing manner, it often helps to study up on the way that you're dying so you understand what your character would experience. For example, you might do an online search for symptoms of a heart attack to help you mimic the gestures that a person would make under those circumstances.
    • You may want to think about how realistic your death scene should be. For example, in some modern, avant garde theater, the goal may not be realism, but a bold artistic statement.
  3. Talk to the director. Before you start thinking about how you plan to play the death scene, it’s always best to have a discussion with the director. He or she will likely have very clear ideas about how the scene should unfold, which can help guide you in the right direction. In addition to technical details such as staging and choreography, the director may also be able to help you understand your character’s emotions throughout the death scene.
    • While you should listen to the director’s vision for the scene, make sure that you’re comfortable with the staging and interpretation because you’re the one who has to play it.


  • If the goal is a convincing, realistic death, do your best not to be overly dramatic. Too much emoting and over the top gesturing can make it difficult for an audience to believe your performance.
  • When you’re using fake blood in a death scene, choose the highest quality option that you can find. If you’re using a formula that’s extremely thin and bright red in color, use a small amount so it appears more realistic.
Users of Guests are not allowed to comment this publication.