I’ve been finding the Hoopla Friday Night show from a couple of weeks ago incredibly influential on the workshops I’m running at the moment, and there’s some great stuff coming out of them. I think seeing performance impro in its purest form has made me concentrate on the most important stuff. I’ve found that just concentrating on whether people are talking loudly enough, not turning their back to the audience, and making sure they are saying yes and dealing with offers, is producing some great workshop content.
I’ve also found recently that giving a rough structure to scenes in workshops (using The Henry, Scene Whore, or Music Box structure) is also making it more fun and people are really playing with it and going for it.
Also today I did a whole workshop on a new topic for us: Objectives. What an amazing topic! What an effect on the actors! So much so I feel they are the missing thing from impro workshops.
They are also in the category of things I actually do on stage when performing, but forget to pass on in workshops. I think sometimes there is a gap between what people teach and what they actually do on stage, so it felt good getting this stuff out there.
Objectives are common things in scripted acting. When putting together the character the actor will go through finding the following for the character:
Super Objective – What the character wants deepest in their subconcious, perhaps connecting to the collective subconcious wants/needs of humanity, eternal absolute forms and values. Freedom, truth, beauty, justice, love, security, safety, happiness etc.
Life Objective – What the character wants over the course of their life/adult life. Perhaps something about how they were raised as a child affects what they want as an adult. Perhaps one event changes their whole life. For instance someone from a broken home seeks building a new family of their own around love.
Play/Story Objective – What the character wants over the course of the actual play/story/film/show. The play shows a section of their life. It will probably be served by the life objective. For instance in the above example the play objective could be marrying a certain person.
Scene Objective – What the character wants in each particular scene. For instance getting the other person to go on a date, or getting her Father to say yes to the proposed idea of marriage.
Line Objective – What they want from each line. Sometimes the lines will state it, sometimes there will be a greater subtext beneath them. This can be the difference between wooden acting and performance with real life behind it.
Actions/Dialogue – What the character does to achieve these objectives, or what they have to do.
Behaviour/Activities/Emotion/Mood/Status – How they do them.
In scripted acting you can attack the creation of characters from different angles. You can start reading the script in rehearsal and come up with a play objective and from that extrapolate a life and super objective. You don’t have to even tell the director you are doing this, if it’s not in the script, just do it anyway to give your character life.
Objectives may be revealed to the character as the story continues. The character at the start might not know that what they really seek is safety and security and love, they may find it later at the end of their journey.
Also the objectives for characters may shift. This happens in real life too, especially after traumatic events, other major life events, or after achieving a previous objective. This creates a momentary sense of loss and confusion in the character, and rather than shying away from this it can be good to actually play.
Another common occurrence is that the character pursues what they want but actually gets what they need. An alternative way of looking at this is that the character pursues a life or play objective, doesn’t achieve it, but actually discovers their super objective along the way which is more beautiful and eternal – the greatest prize of all.
All characters in the story have objectives, not just the protagonist. Some of their objectives serve the protagonist’s dream, some clash with it, some prevent it. Even the smallest character has something they want, even if it’s something really subtle.
In improvisation the generation of character and objectives is effectively switched into reverse. When we go on stage first we don’t know who we are or what we’re doing, so we don’t know what we want from the scene/play/life etc.
So in impro we are free to just do anything at the start. This is amazingly liberating. By just doing something, anything, we accidentally trigger other things inside us that gradually generates objectives and discovers deeper layers to our characters.
In impro we can start with ‘how’ we do things, before we even know what we’re doing. It’s like life switched inside out. So come on, have some behaviour, have an emotion, do an action, have an activity, play a status, and discover why later.
Once the improviser senses an objective, even if it comes as a quiet whisper, they can expand it, yes and it, grow it. They can take the stage, face the audience, and actually say their dream out loud. This signals to the audience and the rest of the cast what they are pursuing. It might feel odd performing this, but it’s incredibly satisfying to the cast and audience.
Improvisers can also just pick an objective at random. It’s more satisfying if it is grown from the small offers that come out of the scene, but just picking something and committing to it works well too. If you’ve been on stage for a few scenes already and don’t have an objective, just pick one.
In impro you can also go on stage with objectives from your own life, to help give your character depth right from the start.
It’s also great if your objective are connected to wanting the other characters to do things, as this adds depth and game. For instance the difference between playing ‘I want to kiss someone’ and ‘I want that person to kiss me within 5 minutes’ is vast, with the latter once generating loads of complicity between characters.
Sometimes in impro your objectives might have to shift, especially if you haven’t named your objective out loud and then someone endows you with something else. This is fine, and with experience you can changing and merging objectives to suit the scene.
The great thing with playing objectives is that the comedy and narrative takes care of itself. You can be playing with a large group over one long story and objectives give all the direction you need. Keep sticking to your character.
Suddenly we had characters on stage pursuing goals.
Excellent stuff workshop team!
London workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday
Shows every Tuesday and Wednesday
Various additional workshops around the UK