One thing this lockdown has done is given many people a chance to take stock, for better or for worse. In conversation with my friends and family I have repeatedly heard people saying that they have never (in a long time) had a chance to consider all they are doing, not doing and want to do.
We often live without overarching purpose, though we are moved every moment by immediate needs, wants and desires. Indeed, this crisis has given me a chance to be present with my children in a way that I have possibly never been, consciously choosing to listen to them, watch for where they are struggling and when they are walking in freedom. This greater need – my need to consciously father them well has affected and very probably reorganised all of the aforementioned, immediate desires.
We are, like our characters, driven by needs and desires at every moment of our lives. We know these as ‘objectives’ of course.
If you’re anything like me, you will have learned and spoken at length about objectives in training, possibly spending ten minutes in class trying to find just the right words to describe your characters want and then just got on the floor, forgotten all about it and done whatever you feel like or planned previously.
They always felt like over complicated things to me. A wonderful way to sound like an actor but ultimately, they just get in your way. I don’t want to have to hold an objective in my head thanks very much, I am too busy acting!
It only struck me later that we will always have something in our head, it’s impossible not to and, if it is not an objective it will likely be a self focused thought like ‘am I interesting enough, good enough, loud enough?’.
These thoughts are less than healthy and, like oil in water, need to be flushed out by overfilling the glass with the good stuff. You will never have an empty mind – it’s up to you what you fill it with.
Only having been shown the power of objectives after working with certain directors did I realise just how freedom enhancing, how valuable and how necessary it is to go after something in your scene work. To actually hunt down an outcome and allow it to fuel your every move.
It has become obvious that self awareness, self focus and self criticism are regular bedfellows for the average actor. They are not easily rejected. In fact, the act of trying to reason them away can make them bigger and more devastating.
The only way to get rid of them is to replace them. Taking a simple and playable objective and learning to hold it in your mind will do several things:
1. Gives you a solid task to complete. An outcome to seek that ‘busies you’ appropriately.
2. Takes your eyes off yourself with less effort than self talk.
3. Allows you to make appropriate decisions moment by moment about how to respond to the other character/s.
4. Provides the scene with much needed stakes.
5. Provides you with much needed energy.
Objectives are chock FULL of benefits and are a lot easier than you think to hold onto. Like anything it takes practice.
An absolutely essential element of setting an objective is to word it properly. This may sound over technical or pedantic but i’m telling you, it has saved my skin on so many occasions.
Number 1 – Make it simple.
Don’t have an over worded objective that you can’t hold in your head, it won’t help anybody. Let’s say your first choice of objective is to ‘get my dads car off him because I really like that guy and I want to make sure I can get to that party so I can see the guy and maybe he will like me and then he might ask me out so that’s what I am doing it for’…
I have literally heard objectives like this in class and they are absolutely coming from the right place but are almost impossible to actually use!
We could reword it in this way ‘I want to get my dad’s car off him’. This is something playable in the moment. The reason for wanting the car is inherent in the given circumstances of the play – your relationship with ‘that guy’ which will come into play as and when it is appropriate. For now, just deal with the simple task in front of you. Get the car.
Number 2 – place the outcome in the other person
The problem an unhelpfully worded objective is that it gives you literally or nothing to look for. You see, if we take our reworded objective ‘I want to get my dad’s car off him’, we find that it’s mostly about you and what you are doing which will only generate self focus. How about this? What if we reworded it again so it is both simple AND effective – ‘I want my dad to agree to lend me his car’.
Can you see how the outcome lying in your dad actually gives you a solid outcome to achieve which you can monitor moment by moment and alter your behaviour accordingly. After all, if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, you won’t know if you have it or not and you are just back to speaking lines.
Play an objective in an audition and just watch as the room lights up because suddenly LIFE has entered for the first time that day. You will generate genuine relationship with the reader opposite you and release yourself from that all too familiar audition terror that tends to rear its head on the big day. Place a solid objective in the other person and you will have no trouble flowing with them, joyfully seeking contact as the scene progresses.
For more information on how to establish and learn to play objectives, check out our COMPLETE ACTORS TOOLKIT which you can do at home http://icat.actor/aiat-members.
For now, let me tell you about a wonderful and simple statement that one of my students made just a few weeks ago when I tried to take his eyes off himself and onto objectives. Having played his speech through with perhaps more freedom than ever he said to me ‘Oh, I am basically trying to keep and hold your attention!’.
Brilliant. That is exactly it. When you are tempted to be overwhelmed by the technicalities of setting and playing an objective, just try to get and keep the other persons attention. This is the shorthand way to lock onto and consistently affect your scene partner without being self conscious or self aware.
Can I encourage you to focus on simple, playable objectives with solid outcomes that you can at least fight for and, even if your character does not get what they want, you are likely to make more interesting, life giving choices as the scene is played out.
Incidentally, just last night, having finished a day of ‘stuff’, just general life stuff that leaves you knackered and wanting to flop on the sofa, I was accosted by my beautiful 7 year old daughter ; Molly, asking me to dance with her. I began to tell her that ‘it’s nearly bedtime and daddy’s really tired’.
Before I got my words out, my overarching objective flashed across my mind and I made a new choice. I put on her favourite tune from the Cinderella movie – a waltz from the ballroom scene and we danced around the living room for nearly 20 minutes. She tutored and corrected me as only a daughter can and what followed was one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful experiences in our relationship so far. Objectives matter.
To you, the artist.