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@The Arts Unit Art Bites – Characterisation – 09. Developing characters using objectives, throughline and tactics

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JANE SIMMONS: Hello, everyone. I'm Jane Simmons from The Arts Unit, the Drama Performance Officer for the Department of Education. And this is episode 9 in our characterisation series. Have you watched them all? Even I haven't watched them all. Although, they tell me I'm very good. Oh, stop it really. No need.

Last episode, we started looking at Constantine Stanislavski and the system of acting training he developed to encourage a realistic three dimensional characterisation. So keep in mind, this system of training may have started with Stanislavski. But it has been developed further by practitioners, such as Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Michael Chekhov, Lee Strasburg, Uta Hagen.

But it was Stanislavski, who with other collaborators, started the process for the dramatic form that is still the most popular style of acting and performance over a century later. So today, we're going to extend on what we learned last time with intentions and subtext by adding in objectives, super objectives, through line and tactics.

In his book, 'An Actor Prepares,' Stanislavski said, the actor must feel the challenge to action physically as well as intellectually. They must look at one's part as a series of units and discover the fundamental objective in each scene. Each objective must carry the germ of action, so use verbs to define objectives, not nouns.

Well, there's our literacy coming into play again. Verbs being doing words, words of action. And nouns being naming words, names of people, places, and things. Objectives and intentions are connected. Perhaps it might help you if you think about your intention coming out of your objective.

The objective is what your character wants in the scene. And your intention is conveying that objective through the meaning of your words, the subtext. So let me break that down further.

If my objective in the scene is to be the teacher's pet, then my intention and subtext is to let the teacher know how wonderful I think she is and how much I enjoy her classes without directly saying that to her. If my objective is to convince my best friend to come to a party with me, then my intention is to persuade her.

Interpreting your character's objectives and intentions guides you in what you need to reveal and what you need to hide, and how you can get what you want. For instance, if my super objective is to get the best test score possible in school because I want to study medicine, then my objectives in each scene would have to lead to my goal.

So maybe it would be about not being distracted from my study, socially ostracising myself from others. Or maybe I want to be the teacher's pet and get on her good side, get her to trust me, And maybe then get a key and access to the classroom where the exams are being held, and to steal an exam paper. So each objective is a building block in achieving my super objective. And my intentions need to reflect that.

If you hear the word throughline, well, that's your journey the character takes to achieve all the objectives on their way to the super objective. A throughline is like a road map. Each objective is a town you reach along the way to your final destination, super objective city! And that leads us to today's big focus and practical task, tactics.

In order to achieve each objective, we use tactics. Have you ever heard of tactical warfare? Well, if you've experienced Year 8, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Tactics are the methods you use to try to get what you want. Tactics are trying to manipulate someone or a situation that allows you to get a step closer in your goal or perhaps to achieve it outright.

The thing about tactics is finding a way to manipulate without the other person realising that they're being manipulated, unless that's your tactic. And then bold move, my friend. I'm not only teaching you acting and characterisation skills here. I'm teaching you life lessons. So my little grasshopper, listen to the Master.

Think about this scenario. There's an incredible party happening with people from school this Friday night. You have an exam on Monday. And your parents have made it clear that you are not going to that party. And you will stay at home and study and prepare instead. But you desperately want to go to that party. If you're super objective is to be the most popular person at school, your objective right now is to be at that party to cement your position in the popular group.

So your intention is therefore to convince your parents to let you go. So what tactic do you use? Well, you could plead with them. You could bribe them. You could shame them into letting you go. You could bargain with them. You could emotionally manipulate them. Or you could deceive them. You have to choose a tactic that will get you what you want.

Today's task is to choose two different tactics you could use to convince your parents to let you go to that party and write a short monologue for each, delivered to your fictional parents in the scene. You may want to make it one monologue that moves from one tactic to the other. After all, how often do we start with one tactic that doesn't seem to be working or has softened up our prey, but not converted them yet? So we have to change tact to achieve our desired outcome.

I feel like I'm giving away all my secrets now. But it's for a worthy cause. Because we drama people have to stick together. Here's another great piece of tactical advice. You might want to think about gently broaching the subject. For example, maybe I'll start talking about how much study I've already done and how confident I feel like going into the exam on Monday. Or I might want to butter my parents up by telling them how much I appreciate their support in helping me navigate through all the stress of this exam period.

A tactic is like a good essay. Don't jump to the conclusion first. Think about your introduction, the body of your goal, and then the conclusion. Think smart. Think tactically. You're welcome.

Once you have written your short tactical monologues, then consider delivery. How we use voice, intonation, facial and body expressions, gestures, timing, tone. What can you use to help you accomplish this mission with everything you've got, including the words? And when you finish writing and practicing, try to find an audience for your monologue, maybe a classmate, your teacher, your best friend, your dog, your family. Although, do you really want to reveal all your secrets to your parents in this exercise?

Get them to give you feedback after you've performed. Are they convinced by your monologues? Was there one stronger than the other? And if you've got to hear the rest of your classes monologues, which ones were the strongest and why? How did they use tactics? And what acting skills did they employ to succeed? Were the monologues you saw and heard believable? Did you see right through it? Or were they clever in how they manipulated their subject to get a step closer to their goal?

Analyse what worked and why and where things didn't work using your wonderful drama literacy. Analyse what was missing, what they did that didn't convince you, and what they did that worked. So start writing your monologues, rehearse, and then perform them. And then critically analyse what worked and what didn't. Then as an extension activity, I want you to create your own scenario that involves a super objective, at least three objectives that you will need to achieve to get to your super objective, and then what other tactics you might use to overcome your obstacles.

Here's another great tip for you. It's a question I often ask my students when they're performing. What's at stake? If the character doesn't really care about the outcome, why would I as an audience member care? And if it's easy to get what you want, is that interesting enough for me as an audience member to watch it?

Here's an example. It's my wedding day [background music]. I've been haunted with doubts about whether I really want to get married to this person. And here I am on my wedding day. And I now know I don't want to get married. And I'm not in love with the person I'm supposed to be marrying. Ouch. You feel the tension, right?

So if I approached my partner and I said, oh, I don't love you. And I don't want to marry you. And they said, yeah, no problem. Let's call it off. I think we'd all be let down by that. It's too easy. There's no conflict or tension anymore. But if I know that that person loves me and I'm going to break their heart by calling off the wedding, or that the pressure from my family to get married is high, or that everybody in the church is waiting for me right now, and I've spent $60,000 on this wedding, then there is so much internal conflict that makes this a very, very hard thing.

How will I now achieve my super objective, which is to be in a house alone with a room full of cats? Well, create a scenario with high stakes. So what's your super objective, your three objectives, and your tactics? You may then want to turn that into a play and take part of it and create a scene or a monologue, or a short film. Share your ideas with your class, your teacher, your friends, and your family. And let me know how you go. All right, well, I've got a wedding to call off. Hope to see you next time.

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