What is an Objective in Acting?
Actors, Directors, Casting Agents, Teachers, Coaches, Astronauts, all talk about how important having a clear Objective for your character is. The only problem is, when you first start acting, nobody tells you what an objective actually is. So, you Google it and end up on StageMilk. That’s what we’re here for! So I better tell you what an Objective is and how it can make you a better actor.
An Objective is what your character wants in a scene.
First things first, your character’s objective is want they want in a scene. Sometimes what your character wants is really clear from the writing. Sometime’s it’s not so clear and you have to make a choice. The most important thing is that the objective that you choose to play supports the story. In a quest to make their performances more comedic, actors will often intentionally choose an objective that doesn’t support the story. Which may be funny, but it’s incredibly difficult to act opposite and will result in a terrible story… and probably unemployment.
Dramatic Scene: Dave and Jenny are eating cake.
Jenny: I’m breaking up with you Dave.
Dave: No. Please. Don’t.
Jenny: I’m not in love with you anymore.
Dave: I don’t think I can live without you.
In this scene Jenny’s objective is fairly clear. She wants to break up with Dave. Dave’s objective is also clear. He wants to stay with Jenny.
Now, if the actor playing Dave were to make his Objective “To eat Jenny’s cake.” the scene would be pretty funny. The only problem is that’s not the story. Making this choice would ruin the scene and your career.
How do you achieve your objective?
The most common terminology used to describe how to achieve an objective is Actioning. Actioning refers to attaching a transitive verb to each of your lines that is specific and relates to your objective.
In our example the actor playing Jenny could use actions like: to confess, to reveal, to crush, to extinguish.
The actor playing Dave on the other hand could use conflicting actions because he has the opposite objective: to beg, to plead, to threaten, to divulge.
Other terms used for actions include tactics and strategies. They all refer to the different ways your character tries to get what they want from the other characters in a scene.
Why is having a clear objective important?
Having a clear objective is really important for a number of reasons. Most importantly the contrast between character’s objectives is the driver of conflict in a scene. Looking back at our example you can see how the stark contrast between our two characters objectives lends itself to a huge amount of conflict. One thing to remember when playing your objective in a high conflict scene is that the characters must still need something from one another. Never get caught up in so intensely committing to your actions that you have the opposite effect. For example if you plead in such an extreme way that it’s deeply unattractive and it makes your character’s situation worse.
Another reason why a clear objective is important is because it highlights the stakes of the scene. Stakes refers to what your character has to win and lose. As actors it’s our job to always play to win, which will avoid any possibility of playing the victim which no one wants to watch on stage. If Dave were to admit defeat and start to grovel as soon as Jenny said Ï’m breaking up with you.”, the audience would switch off. But if Dave is determined to stay together and truly believes it’s a possibility (i.e. plays to win/achieve his objective), and if Jenny truly believes she is strong enough to leave him and find freedom, the audience will be enthralled.
So that is what an objective is and how to use them to make your performance engaging to watch!