In a webinar recently, one of the participants was being led through an exercise on objectives. Having applied an objective to a piece of text successfully and re energised her piece, she stopped and said ‘wow, it makes everything immediate!’.
What a great statement, and what a profound truth. EVERYTHING is immediate. That is, everything we experience happens to us in real time and we must deal with it in real time.
I think what this actor was realising/raising, was the tendency for us to diminish the potency of a beat of text because we, the actor, have become familiar with it and desensitised to the events that befall our character.
Living ‘in the moment’ on stage (or camera of course) depends on a beat by beat assessment of what state we are in, held against what state we would like to be in.
Let me explain that a little better (for me rather than you probably!). You will have heard it said that ‘it’s not what happens to us that affects us but how we think about what happens to us’…or words to that effect.
You may say that ‘perspective is everything’. Perspective depends on our worldview and desires. If we don’t know what we want (out of the moment, the day, the week, life!) then we won’t know what to do with what has just happened to us.
A crude example. If I were to get food poisoning and be laid up in bed all day, that could be absolutely horrible and a real interruption to my week. If, however, I was due to do a 50 mile hike that day with a friend that I ABSOLUTELY didn’t want to do in the first place, the food poisoning may be a welcome problem.
I am sure you get where I am going with this. So, moment by moment happenings only carry meaning as far as they sit in a larger context.
I think it is possible for the actor to almost completely neglect the larger picture out of a misdirection of effort. When we read the text at home or in rehearsal, our imagination wrestles with the moment by moment exchanges doesn’t it? If the script is good we get excited by the skill of the writer, the opportunities they afford us as players who will breathe life into this material. What a joy it will be to make that statement, play that line, receive that news etc.
In a sense we are concerned with the immediate tasks without necessarily considering how they fit into the overarching narrative.
Maybe we need to work backwards?
Having read the play, we need to establish the objectives and, there are several of them.
Let’s do a quick reminder on these.
Are ‘life wants’. What your character wants to achieve by the end of their days. These are often ethically driven and more general than the other objectives.
Are what your character wants by the end of the play. Through lines are often initiated AFTER the story has begun. We tend to witness the inciting moment of someones through line.
Are what your character wants by the end of the scene.
Are what your character wants, unity by unit throughout a scene.
Are desires that run counter to your overarching objectives. For example, my through line may be ‘to get fit for the upcoming Marathon’ but my counter objective may be ‘to eat that massive pizza.
Can we play all of these things at once?
I would say no, but we can certainly incorporate them. What do I mean? Well, having established these things at the start of rehearsal, we are in a position to consistently measure them against the characters beat by beat exchanges and ask questions that become part of our subconscious. If we have spent several weeks pondering our super objective and through line, we will be ever aware of what they are and, like a splint, they will keep us in alignment as we meander through the relational dynamics we find ourselves in.
What can we play?
Well, this is totally personal and subjective but, for me, the only two things I can bring into a scene with me are my scene objective (one solid desire that I keep in my head throughout) and my point of concentration (POC – a Mike Alfreds technique which takes given circumstances from the text and keeps them as preoccupations in the actors head allowing the actor to think like the character).
These two things are about as much as I can deal with and, as they jostle for supremacy in my head they create a wonderful tension between what I want to say or do right now and how that may adversely or positively affect my life wants or through lines. More on those soon!
So, forgive all the technical jargon but it’s all explained above. Ultimately, if we don’t know what we want, we don’t know what to do and as acting is doing – that is a tricky position to be in.
Set your objectives and you set your course. All you need do then is listen and respond and you can’t go far wrong.
To you, the artists.