An acting lesson in character motivations and the conflicts which arise in a scene
This lesson will focus on obstacles. For objectives visit the Breaking into Showbiz archives at Pageantry magazine for my article, Objectives, Objectives, Objectives. As you read on, keep this in mind: If it’s true in life, it’s true in acting! Whether acting in a play, movie, or television show, a performance consist of three requirements:
1) Objectives: What your character wants
2) Obstacles: What is preventing your character from achieving their objectives
3) Action to overcome: What your character needs to do to eliminate any obstacles
If my day goes smoothly, I can quite honestly say my life has been without drama. I may have had a few minor obstacles, a slight traffic jam or a need to refill my gas tank. However, nothing major has disrupted my life.
Now let’s look at a different day. While driving to an important job interview, I am in a four car fender bender which requires the police and insurance cards. While continuing on to my appointment, my tire deflates and I have to abandon my vehicle alongside the road and call an Uber. These delays make me very late for my job interview, thus upon arriving at my destination, I discover someone else has been hired moments before. I remember my car is still on the freeway, so I call a tow truck which brings my car to the mechanic. The mechanic informs me the accident has caused considerable damage to my car. At the same time, my phone rings and it is my insurance company telling me the car which caused the accident has no coverage; I’m liable for all repairs under the $1000 deductible. To top it all off, on the windshield is a ticket for abandoning my car on the roadside. My life is anything but drama free.
A good dramatist may take scenario number two and expound upon the situation. When the mechanic opens the trunk of the car, he finds a dead body and now we are looking at the start of a film idea. The protagonist has more than a lost job to worry about.
Drama isn’t always tragic, it can be very funny. There is an old Laurel and Hardy short film titled The Music Box. (Watch it on YouTube) It’s a half hour of these two great comic performers attempting to move a piano up several flights of stairs. There is one objective, to deliver the piano, and there are many obstacles the two face in order to accomplish this goal.
There are Three Types of Obstacles:
Physical Obstacles: You need to enter your apartment and you can’t find your keys. You have a broken leg and you need to get somewhere quickly. Or, perhaps, you have a headache and you have to make an important decision.
Emotional Obstacles: Your objective is to convey very painful news to someone you love or very good news to someone you despise. Your emotions are making it difficult to achieve your objectives. Perhaps you need to comfort someone while you, yourself are feeling very sad. How frequent in your everyday life have you had to restrain an emotion because it would be ill-advised or inappropriate at the moment?
Psychological Obstacles: Nearly all psychological obstacles are emotional in origin. Nevertheless, there will be those characters who need special research. For example, portraying anyone with an intellectual disability. All characters must be researched on some level, but this type of character would require more because of the uniqueness of each disorder. They must be researched to understand what their individual obstacles may be.
Obstacles may manifest themselves in a more everyday way. Actors are interesting when they allow their characters to display normal human behaviors. This consists of tiny obstacles and the accompanying actions to overcome. You itch, you scratch. You’re uncomfortable, you shift in your chair. Your muscles ache, you stretch. These are all acceptable character behaviors when they in no way interfere with the focus of the scene.
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