This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse
So, did you rush right over to the library after reading Part 1 of this article, grab a copy of Death of a Salesman, find a juicy scene, and try to formulate an objective for it? No?!? Oh, that’s okay. (I was optimistic enough to believe you would, but experienced enough to know that you probably wouldn’t. Although if you did give it a whirl, I would love to see what you came up with.) Either way, today’s post is going to give you more of the specific information you need to be able to start coming up with strong, playable objectives on your own, so let’s roll up our sleeves and begin.
First, let’s recap: Objectives are actions (verbs) that you, the actor, choose to play in any given scene. I told you they should be measurable, achievable (not too easily), and directed at your partner(s) in the scene. Let’s add 3 more qualities:
- They must be specific! So… “To convince Crystal that we don’t belong together” rather than… “To communicate openly with Crystal.” The first one is measurable; the second one is not.
- They must be expressed in positive terms because saying what you do not want to do does not make clear what you do want to do. In other words, you can say your objective is “To avoid making Bob angry,” but you cannot say “To not piss Bob off.”
- They must always be formulated using words that you like or that get you going. “To avoid making Bob angry,” “To keep Bob from exploding,” and “To prevent Bob from flipping his lid” all mean basically the same thing, but if I were playing that objective only the second of those phrases works for me. The wording of the first feels a bit sterile to me and the third feels just kind of weird, so I wouldn’t use either of those when expressing my action in the scene.
Now we have a really helpful reference list, which you can, and should, use to start formulating objectives on your own for any role you are working on, but here is the absolute truth you should know first: While having good, playable objectives will be your salvation on stage, finding and creating them can become the bane of your life in rehearsal. It will be difficult when you first start, in large part because you will, most likely, look for your action in the words of the scene alone, and that is rarely going to be sufficient.
Yes, there will be times when your character’s wants, and, by extension, your objectives, will be readily apparent; she says, “I want a cup of coffee,” and she really wants the other character to get her a cup of coffee. But more often than not your character’s wants must be mined like the precious nuggets they are. She says, “I want a cup of coffee,” but based on what you learned about her in the previous scene you know that what she really wants is to show the man she’s with how desirable she is or make her nasty neighbor feel inferior to her or convince her depressed mother that she still relies on her. Do you see how none of these three objectives derives from the words themselves? But do you also see how invigorating they can be to play and how they would ground you in action and behavior, rather than having you wonder how to deliver a line? (And, further, do you see how each one of them meets all 6 qualities we defined for a good objective?)
Look, you already know how to do this. Without knowing you, I know that you have done some version of the actions above in your own life already. I know this simply because you are human, and wanting to be desired, wanting to hurt someone mean, and wanting to reassure a loved one are part of our common human experience. So grab a scene partner and try it out right now. Say the given line, “I want a cup of coffee,” three different times. Each time focus on one of the objectives above, not on the words. Play the action. Get him to want you. Make her feel inferior. Convince her she still matters. You are an actor, so engage yourself in action. You may be surprised how quickly you start to “get it” and how it will start to change your attitude and approach to acting.
We’ll stop here, but there is much is more to come. If you are already getting it, good. Actually, GREAT! Push yourself to delve more deeply into your script and your imagination and then take the necessary time to create objectives that are strong and grab you viscerally. If not, hang in there. Further clarification is on the way in upcoming posts, and you can always connect with me on LinkedIn and/or feel free to get in touch with me directly with your questions.