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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Objective and the How of that Objective


The Roundabout Theatre in New York has revived Picnic by William Inge.  On January 14, 2013, The New York Times printed a review by Ben Brantley.  The Times also presented a video clip from a scene in the play.  The actor Sebastian Stan plays Hal Carter in this production, and in the clip, Mr. Stan's error regarding playing the objective is illustrative of a common error regarding that aspect of the technique.

It seems, from watching his work here, that Mr. Stan has provided his character with an objective (to get a job in an office). However, instead of also preparing how he intends to achieve that objective from beat to beat, Mr. Stan falls back on a troublesome habit of many actors:  He has decided in advance how he wants to say his lines, and "shows" us his character's objective.  He thereby listens to himself, and strains to show us what his character wants.

The actor who falls back on this habit gets further and further away from his character, not closer. He also presents what I call "actor-think," instead of "character-think."  It's my shorthand for reminding my students that there is no "actor-think" in performance; the character thinks, but not the actor.  What do I mean?  The actor has not prepared properly, and during a scene he'll stop the action in order to connect with how he wants to say the next line.  Notice that Mr. Stan does this just before he says, "Something in a nice office," in the clip from the Times.

As Uta Hagen wrote: "Never confuse the enormous difference between the kind of involvement we have when we are participating in the character's actions and that of the involvement entailed in the kind of muscular, emotional acting springing from an observer's sympathy for the character."

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