Intentions – an actors guide

Intentions for actors_550
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We are delighted to republish Prof. John Palmer’s ‘Theatre Briefs’ series, Actor Hub hope you find them as useful as we have.
This series of short essays about acting is reprinted with the kind permission of Professor John P Palmer of London, Ontario, Canada. He wrote these ‘Theatre Briefs’ for use by students and fellow actors during classes and rehearsals. Where he has relied on material from others, they are cited.
Note: many acting instructors and many books on acting seem to get bogged down in defining and redefining terms. Don’t worry about that. It is the concepts that are important.
Stanislavski (abbreviated “KS”) defined objectives in two ways. First was the notion of a super-objective, the driving force of one’s life: I want to be rich and famous. I want to save the farm. I want to avenge the death of my father. Or, as in Brief #4 “I want love.” etc.
As an actor, you rarely enter the scene saying, “I want to be rich and famous.” To do so would make a very obvious (and short) play.
What makes a performance and play interesting is the second definition of the objective: the countless specific wishes that the actor has and pursues to achieve an overall result. (E.g. a young woman decides to flatter Jim, hoping that he will fall in love with her.) These specific intentions may change line-by-line in response to what the others in the scene do. Are they helping get what you want or are they deterring you? John Crowther has defined that objective as step one of the BAU (basic acting unit). He, as Kazan and Lewis before him, has chosen to call the specific objective the intention.
The intention is the specific thing you want to do in the moment, moment-to-moment (even line to line) to achieve your super-objective: I want to find love.
A super-objective is a very general desire that cannot be acted. I repeat for emphasis: The character’s overall goal is general and cannot be acted!
What can be acted is a specific intention.
If you examine the text carefully, you will find that the dramatic action of the play is a progression of very specific intentions– what you do step-by-step to get what you want.
A play might begin with a young man entering a crowded restaurant; he surveys the scene and sees a beautiful girl seated alone.
INTENTION #1: I want to make contact with that girl.
This specific intention is always connected to the super-objective. The intention is mental. It is an inner desire that still has no meaning to the spectator unless it is executed as physical activity. This execution John Crowther calls step #2 of the BAU or realisation.
REALISATION #1: I walk to the counter, sit next to her and speak: “Hi.”
This outer realization of the inner desire is the action.
Please note that how you do what you do always varies from actor to actor, even given the same text. To think a thought deeply, to feel something intensely without visible realisation is therefore only half the problem in acting. As Kazan tells us, the actor’s job is to turn psychology into behaviour. Behaviour is action.
After all, we call it “acting”.
Taken from work by Norman B Schwartz
These essays may be reproduced at no charge for non-commercial purposes. Just please acknowledge the original source (John Palmer) and his blog Eclectecon.
Also please retain the attributions included in the briefs.
You may not use these resources for commercial purposes.