Project yourself into the future: What do you plan to do after you read this blog? Maybe make some lunch, maybe visit a friend, or return to work… Will you have dinner tonight? Will you go to bed? Visualize how the rest of the day will play out. Any insecurity come up whether it will happen or not? I presume that the answer is "no;" your schedule or day plan seems as certain as the screen you are looking at right now. Sure, you will have dinner tonight! Why wouldn't you go to bed?
I hate to break it to you, but you have absolutely no guarantee that these things will happen. You have a well-tested hunch, but that is about it. Who knows? An asteroid may hit, the love of your life may walk through the door, a car may careen right into you; the future promises nothing. Yet, we proceed as if we know what will happen. We have great expectations, no matter how hum-drum they may be.
Now, what if after reading this blog you know you will return to work to lay-off a long-term employee and friend, or meet face-to-face with a disgruntled ex, or head to court to dispute a suit; I wager that you would feel quite different right now with that future on the horizon. As you are witnessing first-hand, Future Circumstances inform one's present state, including behavior, thoughts and feelings. And, if this is true of ourselves, then it is true of our characters.
Drama and Comedy alike bank on the surety its characters feel for their future. After all, the flames of entertainment were never stoked by satisfied expectations. Drama can only take place when what is unexpected transpires, and Comedy is simply boring unless the unanticipated replaces the common place. As an audience, we take pleasure in seeing the characters terribly disappointed. We spend a lot of money just to witness people on stage or screen scramble and struggle when their well-made plans go awry. Without this, there is no story, no conflict, no plot, no drama or comedy, and, therefore, no intrigue whatsoever. Therefore, when you act, how can you set your character up for utter disappointment? How can you utilize the power of Future Circumstances in your craft?
First of all, you must get rid of Hindsight Bias. When mapping Future Circumstances, you must stay in the present from the point of view of the character. Just as you cannot see into the future, neither can the person you are playing. Acting, so often, is a process of unlearning what you already know. Forget what you know happens in the story, and play it moment-by-moment.
Simply go line by line and ask what your character expects WILL happen. The greater the distance between what the character expects and what actually happens, the greater the obstacle to overcome. Go so far as to set your character's expectations in the opposite direction of what actually transpires in the scene, and you will heighten the stakes and put your action in motion. Can you make up what you expect will happen? Of course! Fabricate circumstances all you want. As long as it is justifiable in the script, anything is possible and playable.
Another way to apply Future Circumstances is to break a scene down into episodes. An episode is a sub-portion of a scene. Almost like a play unto itself, it has its own trajectory. Episodes usually come to an end when something new happens in the scene, giving rise to the next episode. Get clear on what these episodes are, and then identify what your character believes will happen within each one. More than likely, the character's Future Circumstances will differ from episode to episode. At first, he believes he's going to have a lovely evening with his girlfriend, in the next episode, he's likely spending the night alone, to the next, he will spend it in jail, oh my! It is our expectations that allow us to go on a journey. The greater the expectations, the greater the adventure for both you and the audience.
I certainly do hope that your intended futures come to fruition. Plan to have that dinner date, get home okay and go to bed peacefully. It's a relief that our lives are more or less dependable and secure, but it makes us desire the unknown in our craft all the more.
“What stops you in life, stops you in Acting.” ---Ken Garcia, founder of The Actor’s Studio of Orange County