This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse
Great! You read my previous article Verisimilitude: The Key to Good Acting, you understood that the only way for you, as an actor, to bring truthfulness to the stage is for you, as a character, to pursue wants on stage, and you felt ready to get going. Enthusiastically you grabbed a scene you had in mind, sat down to start figuring out your wants, and then came to a screeching halt as you realized you had no idea what to do. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. That’s why today’s article is about how to find and create wants for the characters you play on stage, and the ways in which those wants, or objectives, must differ from the wants in your real life. Let’s start with the differences first.
You begin every day by pursuing a want. You may not realize it, but that is because most daily wants take no effort to conceive, coming instead from intuition and routine. Perhaps you start by wanting to get a drink to satisfy your thirst and then move on to the more complicated want of getting your kids to school on time. As long as everyone and everything around you cooperates, you accomplish what you want with minimal hassle and life is good. But imagine watching a scene in which someone gets their delightfully obliging children ready for school…..Zzzzzzzzz! (How many obliging children do you see on reality TV?!?)
This sets up the two fundamental differences that exist between wants in real life and objectives on stage: First, objectives will not come to you effortlessly or from routine. Certainly, some objectives are clearer than others. Classes in scene study still utilize classic American realism, such as Death of a Salesman or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, not just because the plays are so superb, but also because the scenes of palpable tension between conflicting characters with unmistakable goals are so plentiful. (And, still, there is room for creativity in creating your objectives, but that is a discussion for further on.) But most of the time, coming up with strong and playable objectives will be a tricky business requiring great creativity and attention on your part. It will come from both a close reading of the text and a thoughtful dip into the wellspring of your imagination. Second, as an actor you want objectives that are not easily achieved. (Neither should they be near impossible, otherwise why would you even try?) Unearthing objectives for which there are obstacles is the greatest distinction between the daily, innumerable, mindless wants you pursue as a person, and the calculated, intentional, high stakes objectives you should pursue as a character. While effortlessness in life might be good, on stage it is a bore, and not just for the audience, but for the actor as well!
And so we return to the first point of this lesson, which is how to find and create wants for the characters you play on stage. Of course, you should always start with the text. That is where the finding part comes in. But it is facile, as well as subversive, to believe that you merely need to look at what your character says to formulate objectives. That is where the creating part comes in, and I promise that once you get it, you will find this work stimulating and invigorating, even if it is sometimes infuriating too. (Hey, I’m not gonna lie to you.) Let’s look at the following two lines as an example:
He: You are driving me crazy. Just go away and leave me alone!
She: I don’t want to leave this way. Please let’s talk and figure this out.
It would be fair to come up with these objectives for the two characters involved:
He: to make her leave
She: to convince him to talk
Notice a few things about the way the objectives are worded…
- They are expressed as verbs (action).
- They are outwardly, rather than inwardly focused, concerned with what each character wants the other character to do.
- They are measurable, meaning he will know if he has made her leave and she will know if she has convinced him to talk.
- They are neither too easy nor too difficult to achieve.
We will add more rules to this list as we progress, but for now this is a great start. Here is the next step: Go find a scene from a good movie or play. Use one of the two plays mentioned earlier if you need a suggestion. Find a scene between two people who are engaged in conflict that is clear and explicit. Read it, think about it a bit, and then try to formulate an objective for each character that meets all four of the criteria above. You may not be able to think up anything. That’s okay. This approach to text may be new to you, but like all activities, the more you do it the easier it will become and the more you will develop your skill. If you manage to successfully complete the task, you deserve a huge WOW from yourself, and you will have made a truly noteworthy step toward becoming an actor able to achieve verisimilitude on the stage. Either way, hang in there with me, and the next article should make things clearer. As always, feel free to be in touch with me directly if you have questions, and watch for Part 2 of this topic coming soon.