Panache-post 3: objectives
For acting geeks out there: I have experienced an interesting journey with the time-honored concept of the “objective”. Variously called “objective” “psychological objective” “goal” “purpose” and “intention” (a variation my drama school acting teacher hated: “You don’t intend to do it! You do it, dammit!”), this term is the English attempt at translating the Russian word zadacham, which Stanislavsky used to describe the idea the actor investigates which explains what he’s doing in a scene in a play. Most Russians I have spoken to say the closest English word we have as an equivalent is “task”. Task, to me, has the unfortunate connotation of “hobby” or “pastime”. I like “objective” because it describes a goal, which can measured: you either achieve it or you don’t, and whether you do or not will have a major impact on your behavior in the rest of the scene.
De Guiche arrives in the cadet’s lounge the morning after Cyrano has dispatched 100 of his men at the Port du Nesle. It is also the morning after Cyrano has interrupted a performance of a play de Guiche was attending. During the scene in the cadet’s lounge, de Guiche invites Cyrano to be “his poet” – presumably an endowed position in the French court, with all sorts of tenure, money and advantage attached to it. De Guiche, of course, wants to have this “rock star” as his court poet, but more importantly, he wants to be in control of Cyrano. Cyrano of course, refuses de Guiche, and so their mutual animus is engaged.
I had assumed that my objective in coming to the cadet lounge was to get Cyrano to be my poet. But a small, stray note from Aaron and a rewrite from Michael changed it.
- The note: In the cadet scene: the moment you realize Cyrano is the same man who defeated Valvert.
- The rewrite: add “Had I such a poet, I would not have had to hire 100 men last night.”
The note implies that Aaron believes that – when I get to the cadet lounge – I do not know that the guy at the theater (who fought with my friend Valvert) and the guy at the Port de Nesle are the same guy. And so the moment then early in the scene, when I lay eyes on Cyrano, is a huge one for me. It is then that I put it all together: the amazing, brash fighter with the huge nose who composed a poem while dispatching my buddy, is also the rock star who defeated 100 men at the Port du Nesle. Holy shit! I have to get this guy on my side! Thus, the objective I had thought began the scene for me actually begins about ten lines into the scene, suggesting that I arrive with a different objective. So if I’m not coming to the cadet lounge to get Cyrano to be my poet, then why am I coming there?
This is where the rewrite helped. I am paying a visit initially not to Cyrano, but to the outfit he serves in, a sort of “Green Beret”, swashbuckling unit called the Gascony Guard. I know the guy who took out 100 of my men serves in the Gascony Guard (and by “my men” I mean 100 guys I paid a few francs to, to rough up a poet named Liniere who had written an embarrassing poem about me). My objective then in coming to the Gascony Guard is to get them to reget what they’ve done. I imagine I will extract a public apology from them, or something. But upon seeing Cyrano, and adding everything up very quickly, my character undergoes a signficant “beat change”, and his objective changes.
The English vocabulary of realistic acting is replete with versions and mistranslations of the Russian words of Stanslavsky and his disciples. “Beat” for instance, which we use as a term to denote a kind of psychological musical “measure” in a scene, is what the early 20th century Americans thought their Russian teachers were saying. But the Russians were actually saying “bit” with a Russian accent.
But the most important word Stanislavsky used, the one he pointed to over and over as being at the center of the kind of acting he invented, the kind of acting which has now become “acting” the world over, was perezhivanie. It is a word which has gone unexamined in the little world of academic acting teacher writing (Sharon Carnicke’s book notwithstanding). It means, essentially, “experiencing”. It is out of this word that Strasburg put together the now infamous and forever misunderstood “method”. I have always believed Adler got closest to it, in her fervent wish that we sink deeply into the world of the play we are in, and from the alchemical combustion between our imaginations and the playwright’s world, brought to life by directors and designers, we actors begin experiencing another life. We are transported and transformed, not backwards into some solipsistic memory loop of our own experience, but out of the boundaries of our own lives, upwards and into the limitless territory of creativity and art.