Post from 1544, April 2013

Having a Workable Objective is Not Enough

Monday, 15. April 2013 0:32

Most actors use a tool called “objectives.” This tool can also called “goals” or “intentions” or several other names. Basically they all mean the same thing: what the character wants. The rationale is that if the actor knows what the character wants and actively seeks to attain that goal, he/she will be consistent and believable. Regardless of the school of acting to which the actor adheres, the notion of objectives as motivators is basic. So imagine my surprise when a few nights I saw a new play acted by experienced professionals and the lead seemed to be less than expert in using objectives. The friend who was with me said that the actor had no objective. I was of a different opinion; I thought that the actor had different objectives for each of the two acts and that she did not sufficiently establish the priorities of the character in the first act so the end of the play had far less impact than it might have done.

These are significant problems. Multiple, inconsistent, or missing objectives cause confusion since audience members cannot properly discern motivation and may have to conclude that the character has some sort of personality disorder that, for some reason, is not referenced by the script. Objectives that fail to establish the priorities of the character fail to support the overall movement of the play’s plot and theme, to say nothing of the character arc.

Now the actors among you may be saying that it’s not the actor’s job to establish things, particularly thematic things. The actor’s job is to create a character and, in a realistic play, make that character believable and consistent. If an actor, however, fails to create a unified character or creates a character that is with odds with obvious intention of the script, that actor may want to consider the direction he/she is taking the character.

The problem with objectives is that there is no one “right” objective. Some objectives are more right than others, but there is no single correct one. This is an area of interpretation. The only requirement is that the actor select an objective that can motivate him/her from the beginning to the end of the play, with a number of sub-objectives in between. All valid objectives are, of course, based on the script.

So it is possible for the actor to arrive at an objective that will, in fact, motivate the actions of the character throughout the play, but still not be the best objective possible. The best objective possible is one that will motivate the character, but which will also support the plot and theme and prepare the way for the character-related action as well as take into account the director’s interpretation of the show. Arriving at a proper objective is a complicated business that some actors struggle with and other embrace.

So it would seem that responsibility for developing the best possible objective falls squarely on the actor; it does. However, any director, even one directing seasoned professionals, should notice any problems and correct the actor’s course. The director must insure that all the actors are creating unified characters and are on the same page as the director with regard to the show’s meaning, atmosphere, and action. Without such consideration, we are likely to witness a directionless and fragmented performance.

It is that same with any collaborative, interpretive art. Each member of the team must be sure that he/she is consistent in terms of his/her contribution to the project and that he/she is moving in exactly the same direction as all the other artists involved in the project. Anything less is inappropriate, insufficient, and likely to cause the project to be far less than it might have been.

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