Units & Objectives, Chapter 7: An Actor Prepares

We have all heard of units and objectives. But how important are they? And what how can we adapt our perspective to see them in the light that Stanslavski sees them?

In chapter 7, Stanslavski teaches a technical method of arousing inner, living desires and aspirations. This method includes the understanding and application of units, creative objectives, and given circumstances.

One of the best introductions to understand Stanslavski’s perspective on units and objectives in the theatre involves a turkey…and…well just take a look:

“Imagine a whole turkey is not a turkey but a five act play. Can you do away with it all in a mouthful? No. You cannot make a single mouthful either of a whole turkey or a five act play. You must carve it, first into large pieces. There you have the first big divisions. But you cannot swallow such chunks. You must cut them into smaller pieces… Try swallowing. Although small, its dry, and still big pieces. .Cut them smaller. Give it taste by: adding an invention of imagination, with a sauce of magic ifs. Allow the author to present his ‘given circumstances’ while adding more spice from the actor himself

  • Thats what you must do with the bits of your part. Soak them more and more in the sauce of ‘given circumstances’. The dryer the part the more sauce you need.

We must temporarily ‘cut up’ the script in order to better understand not just our characters, but the themes of the story you are trying to tell. We cannot simply read through an entire script and then understand the entirety of the play. You may think you can, but you don’t. (Just like you cannot swallow an entire turkey! It needs da sauce!)

GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES – The total set of environmental/situational conditions which influence the actions that a character undertakes. **The actor must be consciously aware of the conditions to help understand on a deeper level, the motivation behind the character’s actions** 

Specific Given Circumstances:

1. Conditions of the character’s world (time)

2. Elements of character’s environment

3. Elements from character’s personal situation

—> Plot, facts, incidents, period, time/place of action, way of life.

  1. CREATIVE OBJECTIVE – Lies at the heart of every unit.
  • The objectives must form a logical and coherent stream, creating a direct and organic bond.
  • Objectives can also be divided up like units and can help continue to guide you.
  • Don’t avoid action and aim straight at the result. You will get a forced product. Think about the action that must prepare it!

You can develop acting with truth, fullness and integrity of purpose by choosing lively objects… Inner, active objectives help direct an actor along the right path and restrain them from false acting. It is the objective that gives you faith in your right to come onto the stage and stay there.

2. Mechanical Objective – nothing to do with psychology. ex; come into the room and nod to professor

3. Ordinary Objective – Psychological element to it. Rudimentary type (limited to basic principles) ex; holding out your hand trying to express sentiments of love

4. Psychological Objective – ex; to stretch out your hand to your enemy of yesterday is not a simple problem. You will think it over carefully, going through many emotions before you do.

  • Rehearsals will be spent finding the right objectives, getting control of them, and living with them.
  • An actor must learn to recognize the quality and to avoid the useless. Learning to choose essentially the RIGHT objectives.

This can help you decide how to determine purposeful, ‘right’ objectives:

  1. They must be on our side of the footlights. This means that they must be directed toward other actors, not toward the spectators, past the footlights.
  2. The objective should have attraction to you, the actor, making you wish to carry it out.
  3. They should be personal, yet analogous to those of the character you’re portraying.
  4. They must be creative and artistic because their function should be to fulfill the main purpose of our art: To create the life of a human soul and render it in artistic form.
  5.    They should be real, live, and human. NOT dead, conventional, or theatrical.
  6.   They should be truthful so that you yourself, your fellow actors and audience can believe in them.
  7.   They should have the quality of attracting and moving you.
  8. They must be distinctly woven into the fabric of your part. Essentially being clear cut and typical of the role you are playing. They must not be shallow, or skim along the surface. Aka, NO VAGUENESS is tolerated in the life of objectives. The stronger point of view always wins.
  9. They should have value and content that is able to correspond to the inner life of your part.
  10. They should be active, always able to push your role ahead and not let it stagnate behind. The objectives will always keep you moving mentally or physically.

In Stanslasvki’s book, he encourages the following in regards to applying objectives to your work: In the beginning of your work in putting this method to practice, limit yourself to what is simple; physical objectives. Go by your instincts, always leaning towards the physical side (for now.) The physical objectives are readily available at your fingertips and more possible of execution. You will reduce the risk of falling into false acting if you start here. 

Stanslavski says, “STICK TO THE CHANNEL.”

“An actor must proceed not by the multitude of detailsbut by those important and specific units which, like signals, mark his channel and keep him in the right creative line.”

What are you doing right now?

You are taking notes mentally or physically. This is the key to your main objective currently.

EX) Got a cup of coffee to keep your energy level up. One unit. Got out your books and laptop to organize on table. One unit. Once set up, proceeded with beginning to take notes… together these units create one large objective ; taking notes

As you can see, if you were to apply this example of cutting up your actions and your main objectives to a play or an entire script, you would have a LOT of units. That is why we have to cut down the number of units by sticking to the important ones. They mark your channel. Still, all of the small units are significant to the main objective.

The example at the beginning of this post which explained how we cut up a play just like we cut up a turkey is correct. In this process, you are breaking each unit up into finer details and reproducing them clearly and minutely. However, division is temporary, as you eventually reassemble them as a whole.This is because your part and the play must not remain in fragments. A chopped up play, a broken statue, or a broken canvas is not art!

That being said, please note that it is only for the preparation of a role that we use small units. During the actual creation, we fuse the small units into large units. The larger and fewer the units, the easier it is to handle the whole role AND the larger and fewer the divisions, the less you have to deal with. This makes it easier to handle the whole role and the entirety of the story.

“Many actors dispense with the channel and are then incapable of dissecting a play and analyzing it, then find themselves forced to handle a multitude of superficial, unrelated details. They become confused and lose sense of the larger whole.”

Technique of Division: What is the core of the play, the thing with which it cannot exist without. There must be appropriate background. “Do not break up a play more than is necessary, do not use details to guide you. Create a channel outlined by the large divisions, which have been thoroughly worked out and filled down to the last detail.”

With the core of the play in mind, go over the main points without entering into detail: 

  1. Divide play into its main organic episodes – its largest units.
  2. Draw from each units the essential content and you will have an INNER OUTLINE of the whole play. It is often necessary to combine several small units!
  3. This marks out a channel to guide you through the play.

How do we draw an objective from a single unit of work?

  1. Find the most appropriate name of the unit, one which characterizes it’s inner essence. You must basically subject a unit to a process of crystallization. The right name, which crystallizes the essence of a unit, discovers its fundamental objective.
  • DON’T try to name the unit. Name the objective in terms of a VERB (not a noun.) A noun used as names for objectives tend to make you play the picture. You can show what power and love are, but you are not power and love.
  • A noun calls forth an intellectual concept of a state of mind, a form, a phenomenon, but can only define what is presented by an image without indicating motion or action.
  • EVERY OBJECTIVE MUST CARRY IN ITSELF THE GERM OF ACTION.
  • Verbs provoke thoughts and feelings which are inner challenges to action.
  • Every objective you choose ( in a way) calls for some degree of action.
  1. Try to get away from other character’s emotions, and instead make a coherent survey of the major and minor parts of the scene. That is the way to get at the inner meaning. When your words, feelings and consciousness have mastered it, search for a word which will embrace the innermost meaning of the whole unit. This word will spell out your objective.

When finding the most appropriate name for a unit, we must find the right verb. To do this:

“Take the word power as an example. Put ‘I wish’ in front of it and you have ‘I wish power.’ That is too general. Introduce something more definitely active, stating a question so that it requires an answer. This will push you to some fruitful activity to carry out that purpose.” You can also say, ‘What must I wish to do to obtain power?’ When you answer that, you will know what action you must take.

Examples….

  1. I wish to be powerful … ‘to be’ is static. It does not contain the active germ necessary to an objective.
  2. I wish to obtain power … This is closer to action, but still too general and cannot be executed at once. Can you sit on a chair and wish for power ‘in general?’ You need something more concrete, real, more possible to do, nearer.
  3.    I wish to obtain power in order to bring happiness to all humanity … This is hard to believe in possibility of realization and action.
  4. I wish to obtain power to enjoy life, be happy, distinguished, and satisfy my ambition … This is more realistic and easier to carry out. But to do it, you must take a series of preparatory steps. You cannot reach the ultimate goal at once, but will approach it gradually. Go over these steps and enumerate them.

FINAL NOTES:

As great as I am at absorbing and spitting out information, sometimes it can be hard for me to retain something as important as this chapter. However, we must keep in mind that this is a METHOD. It is something to be PRACTICED daily in order to fully comprehend. My next step is taking the significant information out of this post, and making a document to put in my study of acting binder, so that I can always come back to this work.

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Staying Motivated… Thoughts

Goodmorning from North Carolina!

I know I haven’t posted anything acting-related in the past few months. I am posting this because I have noticed my blog has gained some momentum in terms of followers. I want you all to know that I have been taking time for myself recently. As a young woman who is figuring out the ups and downs of life, it is so easy to get caught up in school/work and life itself.

I would love to hear anyone’s opinion on what I am about to say. If you would like, you can contact me directly at meraki24media@gmail.com

We as people tend to find many things we enjoy over time. From small hobbies to extreme passions, we are creatures that excell in dedicating our lives to the lifestyles and work we love (not always unfortunately.) To do anything in life, you have to have passion. Whether it is music, acting, dance, or art, it is so easy to feel like you want to quit, especially when things are hard. This is why it is so important to have a strong support system around you, to keep you on track when you want to swerve off the path. Do you think it is necessary for people to completely and fully devote themselves to their job and passion? I had a friend who understands this dream of mine, to commit and study acting. He came up to me and asked, “What are you still doing here in North Carolina? If you are an actor, why are you here? Why are you working 4 days a week at your job and going to school for a degree you don’t love?”

I know he was being very blunt, but his questions hit home with me. They made me feel as if I have been wasting time finishing up college when I could be committing myself to audition after audition in NYC or LA. Which, I still feel like I should.

Overall, I am really trying to figure everything out even though everything feels so clouded and unclear. Maybe I am way too hard on myself. Maybe my expectations are too high for myself. But, I truly have a hard time committing myself to something I know I could be doing a lot better if I was somewhere else. ……. The interesting part is as I just typed that, I realize how ridiculous it sounds. If I am finishing up college and then planning to move to a larger city with more opportunity, I should continue my study of acting and this blog. Because it is all I have right now, and if I truly care about the craft of acting, I will sit my ass down in my school library and continue to read Stanslavski.

Regardless, Thank you for the follow, and I hope I can continue to spread insight into different acting teachers etc.

PS – I just got my computer fixed, so there will be more post soon 🙂