6) Need-Relationship-Obstacle, Justification, and Stakes
The DWR scene is driven by the suspense of: will she change or will he change? Each NEEDS the other to change. As referenced in “The Actor’s Target,” a need is something that is beyond one’s control. One does not DECIDE what one needs. What one WANTS, however, is a conscious decision. That said, we all sometimes think we need things that we don’t; but it doesn’t matter as long as we are driven get it. Pursuing a NEED is much stronger than pursuing a want. Not getting what we need is humiliating and painful. A NEED forces us to be creative, dangerous, forceful. The opposite of what one needs is not getting it.
A “want” is something one pursues because it seems it will make life better, even in a minor way. It is a conscious choice. “I want the salt.” “I want to make love to him.” “I want to die.” Whatever one wants, there is an opposite at play, just as there is with a need—what one doesn’t want.
Plays are about people needing and wanting things and getting them and not getting them. The main NEED of the central character(s) drives the action. Stanislavski called this the super-objective. If I need to redeem myself in the eyes of a lover, there may be many things I must accomplish along the way—many needs and wants I need fulfilled. This creates the ups and downs—and it all driven by my super-objective or main NEED.
There is not a moment on stage when a character does not want or need something. Those wants and needs are always pursued through whoever else is on stage. That person(s) provides the wants/need and also prevents the want/need. So, I want or need something BECAUSE of the other character(s) and because of my circumstances. Once the lights come up, everything I do is dictated by the other(s). Look at it this way: What you NEED/WANT is dictated by the other (what Donnellan calls the “target”) and the other is your obstacle to you getting what you need/want. You are always playing a positive and a negative—I need to get you to love me, but I’m afraid you won’t love me so I need to make sure that you won’t not love me. All wants and needs have positive and negatives.
Kirs needs to be taken back. Joe needs her back. So what’s the conflict? Remember…no conflict, no drama. No drama, no reason for anyone to be on stage or in the audience. It is the obstacle that creates conflict:
Joe needs for Kirs and him to stay sober. Kirs needs to drink. They both want to be together. Joe will not allow her to drink if she is to be with him (their daughter). They both fight for their positions. Conflict. Conflict forces one to reveal truth—we can only truly understand what one stands for when that person/character must confront a major obstacle. Kirs is weak. Her drinking is more important to her than her husband and daughter are.
The obstacles take shape in various forms—mostly with the other characters in the play, but there are always inner or psychological obstacles, physical/environmental obstacles, etc. There is nothing in this prep list that works independently, but that is especially true of the connection between my relationship with the other character(s)-what I want-and what is the obstacle to my getting it. What I want is defined by my circumstances, how I go about it is not only defined by my circumstances, but by the other(s) on stage with me and the obstacles they present, as well as the obstacles I present to myself. (“I’m shy. I want to ask Sue out. She’s my best friend’s girlfriend.” What a mess. Even in this simple scenario. Don’t forget that I am bringing my own experiences to this role AND I am using what the actress playing Sue brings to the situation. Use what is right there in front of you—get out of your head and get out of your way!)
Then there is the inner conflict or Dilemma: Philosophical, ethical/moral, religious, personal—this is essentially when two or more viable paths of action collide and a decision has to be made. All characters have dilemmas whether they are written into the script explicitly or not…just like any of these other steps of preparation.
Your partner will provide you with obstacles with what she’s doing, and you will naturally find obstacles in her own personality.
We have inner obstacles or psychological obstacles—fear of spiders and high elevations, of men in suits, of women in red dresses, of being rejected, and so on; and the triggers to set them off are specific smells, sounds, sights, memories, various associations of certain stimuli, etc. We come to relationships with baggage. So does your character. What are the givens that predisposes her to be afraid to ask for a raise, for example, that transcends the immediate givens. Granted, it is the other, or the target, that causes them to surface. Never forget that—your partner gives you a target and is responsible for you doing what you do. Why does Kirs leave? Joe made her. Why does Joe plead for Kirs to give sobriety a try? She made him. This is the way the actor should think early on, because it is what should be happening on stage in rehearsal and performance: pay attention to the “target” and it will make you need and want and be an obstacle to what you need and want and make you sit and stand and walk and run and, in summary, play the action uniquely and boldly. You’ve done your preparation. Now it’s live. Pay attention to the other, to the target, and not to your homework. It’s too late to consult the manual—it’s live ammo.
Here is a good time to note that an actor must not concern herself with “how” to do something (unless it involves stage violence or other activities that must be mapped out for the sake of safety or logistics). This is a trap. Be careful. The actor will know at some point in the preparation-rehearsal process that there are options in terms of how she might do something (eat a sandwich, smoke a cigarette, threaten a character, walk, talk, etc.) and at some point the best ways will reveal themselves in rehearsal and performance. She may put great thought into how something might be done and then practice it until it becomes natural and precise, and then motivate it in performance. This is fine. The obligation is ultimately to pass the test a discerning eye will give it—that it look truthful.
Actors hear a lot about making choices regarding what action they are playing. This is where one looks at action verbs—“I am POUNDING the information into him.” “I am SQUEEZING the information out of him.” “I am FISHING the information out of him.” Whatever one wants to try. This gives the actor something active to DO. It’s physical, not cerebral. And it’s whatever an individual actor finds what works for her. One can certainly consciously decide what action to play and then go out on stage and play it. But as noted—it must be motivated by something EXTERNAL. Always. Dialogue is motivated by the target. If I hold a cigarette in a certain way, that is motivated by something outside of me—my father did it that way and it makes me closer to him to imitate him, I want to appear interesting to the intellects at the coffee shop because I need to be accepted, etc. One can discover (not create) many possibilities. If I am going to POUND information into someone, that “someone” must make me do it that way. If I decide beforehand what I want to play, I might not pay attention to the other person(s) on stage and it is she who is going to make me do something and do it in a certain way. Again, I can examine possibilities before I rehearse, but only by paying attention to the other or the target will I be made to do something and do it in a specific and truthful way.
You can certainly make a plan of attack, a map of actions you will play. The danger with doing this is that it can sway you from paying attention to your partner(s). You will have decided what you are going to do—that is your partner’s job. You go into a scene with probabilities, just as in life. It’s probable that you can try to get something from someone in any number of ways. Given the “character’s” circumstances and your perception of them, the probabilities are refined and narrowed a bit. Given your partner’s “character” and her personalization of them, your probabilities are again refined; but it is in the live moment where what is done, is done. If you get stuck and need to get something going on stage, pick a bold action (a bold choice is one that excites you and energizes you—all your choices should be bold wherever possible) and play it.
When reviewing needs and wants, ask yourself what the “character’s” view of the immediate situation is. Ask ”How are things?” Listen to the answer your “character” gives. What you will finally hear is what she wants to change. This is your answer to what she wants and needs, ultimately. A “character” always wants to change the other(s) way of thinking or doing something. So, this is the engine of all characters—to change the other (to change herself is also a possibility).
Everyone wants to improve their station in life, even if it means being destructive. Putting it neatly—you always need/want something. This is what makes you active. Even if you are sitting still, you must be active—there must be an inner struggle—this means you are conflicted by opposing needs and/or wants. “I need to love Jane, but I must remain faithful to my wife,” for example.
How does/would the character justify wanting this “something” to the point of risking a great deal for it? Not everything a character wants has high stakes, or else the play would flatten out. But the overall struggle is for something grand in the eyes of the character.
Justification is what we all do when taking any action. Killers justify killing someone, at least at the moment they do it or else they wouldn’t do it. We make bad choices and each one of them is justified—at least at the moment we act. It didn’t seem bad at first—or at least we thought we’d gain something, but now we are left with the consequences.
Stakes. Stakes are high if the character stands to lose a lot going after what she wants. Also…if the character will lose a lot even in getting what she wants. Is the character aware of the stakes? If so, it usually makes the conflict much more dramatic.