Pillar 5: Objective
I'm finally blogging again! The book is written and now we are amping up for publication! More on that to come. I want to pick up where I left off years ago with the fifth Pillar: Objective. This blog is an excerpt from the chapter (you will have to buy it to get the whole thing!) I would like to focus on what essentially an Objective is, and on the concepts of the Target and Homeostasis...
Up until this point, the actor has learned how to be in Contact with his partner, how to interpret Circumstances and how to emotionally connect to the Circumstances and Meanings of the story. (See previous blogs on the first 4 Pillars...) The actor can consider this the bulk of his homework, requiring a lot of time and energy to build a Sense of Truth within the playworld. The path takes a turn as of the Fifth Pillar, as now the actor will study how to actually act. The second half of the Pillars focuses now on the "Living Truthfully" portion of our Golden Rule, teaching him that action and forward progression is integral to any believable performance. In order to do this, an actor employs Objectives.
An Objective is what the character wants, needs or requires from another person or object. Objectives are dependent on outside forces, Circumstances, and other characters. They seek to improve the life or homeostasis of the character.
Objectives have a long history within acting training. First introduced by Stanislavsky, they are commonly considered a necessary component to the craft of an actor. Also called goals, intentions and motivations, Objectives are closely linked to Potential and Future Circumstances, because they deal with what is either expected to happen or what could happen, based on the character’s desire. An Objective keeps the actor playing forward.
My acting teacher, Vicki Hart, told us that an Objective is like a clothing line strung up between two buildings, from which hang all the moment-to-moment actions in the script. From this image, you can see the responsibility that Objective bares.
WHAT ARE OBJECTIVES?
Let’s brainstorm as many Objectives as we can:
To be loved
To get money
To be happy
To be right
To be wanted
To be understood
To be accepted
To be respected
To look real good
To end the conversation
To be comfortable
To be favored
To be rich
To be taken care of
To make peace
To be forgiven
To be absolved
To have ownership
To make someone laugh
To make someone happy
To have fun
To celebrate / commemorate
To be recognized
To be employed
To be useful
HOW TO USE OBJECTIVES
An actor utilizes Objectives by scoring his script with the wants and needs of his character. Written in a simple format, either: “I want x ,” “I need y ,” or
“I must z ,” the Objective solidifies wh
at the character is fighting for in the scene from moment-to-moment and from episode-to-episode.
DEGREES OF OBJECTIVE
Any of the above Objectives can be wants, needs, requirements or obligations: I must have closure, I want to make her laugh, I have to relax, I need to win. It all depends on the degree of the Objective. Be honest about how you prioritize your Objectives. You may want to be right, but you need to make peace, because you have to go into a meeting this minute. Each level of desire compels the actor to take action. Obviously, there is a hierarchy: you need to pay your rent, but you want to spend that money on flights to Hawaii. When ascribing Objectives to your text, consider how the degree you choose will affect the potency of your desire. Typically, an obligation is more motivating than a mere desire. There is artistic choice in crafting the motivations of a character.
Objectives must be written down…in pencil. To Score a script means to make notations on the page to help craft choices and direct your work. Much like a musician’s score, the actor’s Score is typically his notated script. Scoring is an important part of Objective work; as we put choices down on paper, we can begin to commit to them. For the next two Pillars, Scoring your script will be a consistent feature of the work.
One of the core conflicts within human nature is our desire to be self-sufficient and in control when the fact is we really depend on one another to survive. If you could be fed, loved, make a baby and be provided for all by yourself without leaving your home, I am sure you would. Instead, you have to give love to be loved, you have to contribute to society in order to survive, you have to engage with others in order to pay bills, buy groceries and move forward in life. We need things from other people that we cannot get from ourselves alone. The character’s Objective reflects that external dependency, as well.
Since Objectives are inherently linked to the outside world, the actor should affix his character’s Objectives to specific persons or objects. This external thing or person is called the Target. Instead of “I want peace,” it’s “I want him to give me peace.” The man is the Target. Other than, “I want to be happy,” it could be “I want this job to make me happy.” The job, in this instance, is the Target. Fixing an external hook will keep the character fighting for something outside of himself. This, in turn, will give him forward momentum, which is always the trajectory we are seeking in our acting. If the character is his own Target, then he doesn’t need anything from anyone, and the performance goes from active to reflective. Wanting and needing from someone else creates natural conflict.
This principle harkens back to the Contact Pillar, since an Objective that is rooted in the other person or partner will increase the level of investment in the relationship. It magnetizes them to each other and deepens listening. Only, the Objective Pillar sweetens the deal: not only are the characters listening but also they are listening for something specific. One player is listening for his Target to say, do, think or feel something that, for him, would improve his Circumstances. As a result, the Target is part Objective, part Contact, and part Potential Circumstance.
Declan Donnellan, an international director and acting theorist, wrote The Actor and The Target. Donnellan expertly and coherently conveys the use of the Target while acting. We share the philosophy that acting is seeing through the Character’s eyes; Character is nothing more than, as he calls it, a lens through which to see the Target. With this in mind, acting emphasizes the other person and minimizes the actor himself. This helps to cultivate less self-consciousness while acting, since it isn’t about what the actor is doing; attention is always fixated on what the other person is doing.
Homeostasis literally means “same state.” In acting terms, it is the state of wellbeing and balance and represents the comfort and satisfaction that one seeks to experience in every moment of the day. Consider yourself and your Present Circumstances. Perhaps you are seated comfortably in a chair, but the button of your jeans is rubbing wrong on the seat, so you shift your weight slightly to the right; in that moment of minute satisfaction, Homeostasis is achieved. As soon as you have it, it slips away. Now your left pinky is itchy for some reason. You cross your right hand over to give it a digging scratch, and the nuisance is alleviated: Homeostasis occurs again. As you can see, Homeostasis demands that one constantly seeks to improve his Present Circumstances. Now, let’s imagine a plausible set of Circumstances that are not so slice-of-life. You are with your lover on his deathbed. He is minutes away from death and it’s just you two in the room. You are scared, so he recites a soothing prayer. As he speaks, you brush a rogue strand of hair off his cheek, and after he is done you squeeze his hand to thank him for the comforting words. Your lover is dying, you are overwhelmed with thoughts, fears and anguish, yet you are not a puddle on the ground. If you surrendered fully to the pain and grief, you would abandon your lover, who still needs you. As you balance your pain with how you can make the most of the remaining time you have together, you are still achieving minute moments of Homeostasis. Even though this is the worst moment of your life, you are still finding ways to improve it and make it more livable.
Let’s imagine the opposite situation. You are having a glorious day. You are marrying to the man of your dreams. You are getting ready for the ceremony, doing your make-up and getting dressed. Your bridesmaids are around you, as is your family; you even have a glass of champagne in your hand…how can life get any better? Here’s how: the champagne is lukewarm, so you place it in the fridge to get a touch cooler. One of your bridesmaids isn’t getting along with another one, so there are small notes of tension. You make jokes to keep the mood buoyant. A massive zit is attending the wedding unannounced, so you dab on a dollop more of foundation. (Didn’t your mother always say they would be gone on your wedding day?) Even when cloaked in harmony and bliss, life finds a way to unravel it. In response, we make adjustments large and small to maintain a balance of comfort and satisfaction. In view of the above examples, Homeostasis is relative; it pertains to life’s Circumstances no matter how dire or pleasant. In this way, Homeostasis is a moving target. In one moment, it is embodied by establishing comfort in the seat of your chair; the next, it lives in your itch-free left pinky. Homeostasis does not judge, it just wants.
Homeostasis only exists in specific, cascading present moments. How can I improve this moment…now, this moment…and now, this moment? Just as I am writing, I take a sip of coffee, I stretch my head right and left, I run my tongue over my teeth to cleanse them after just having breakfast. It never ever ends.
Homeostasis is an important aspect of Objective work. Whereas Objectives are a technical tool, Homeostasis is just a fact of life. Everyone engages in the unending game of life improvement. The character you play is no different, so you can tap into the way he negotiates with the steady flow of Circumstances. No matter if he is getting married or on the brink of death, every character is constantly eking out some improvement to make life more bearable, blissful or stable.