So you’ve learned your lines, you’ve studied your Given Circumstances and used them to choose a Prep. Now you need some Objectives.
Let’s get this much straight: Affectable doesn’t deal in super-objectives, where you decide what your character wants over the course of the whole play. Nor does it deal in scene objectives in the Stanislavskian sense, where you make a decision about one specific thing that you want to achieve.
Within Affectable, you might have several Objectives within a single scene, depending on how many characters you interact with. This is because you have a separate Objective on each of those characters (up to and including the audience if there’s any direct address/breaking of the fourth wall).
Objectives take this form: “Get [Other Character] to…” They’re not directly about you, because you can decide what you do. It’s much harder work to get someone else to do something, especially when you’re constrained by having to work within a playwright’s words so you can’t simply ask for what you want.
You can get used to working with Objectives using a simple game. Two actors do repetition together (the Affectable version of repetition might need a post of its own…) and each one is given an Objective. It’s easiest to start with what I call “concrete” Objectives – definite, unmistakeable physical things like “get them to leave the room” or “get them to whisper”. There’s no room for interpretation. Either someone is in the room or they’re out of it. Either they’re whispering or they’re not. So you know for definite whether you’ve succeeded in getting your Objective.
Of course, the Objective you have informs the tactics you use. Unsurprisingly, when it’s a concrete objective with no other conditions attached, people are usually quite gung-ho. Want to get them to leave the room? Pick them up and carry them there, if you can. Want them to sit down? Pull them into a chair or onto the floor. It’s a good place to start, especially with actors in the early stages of training who might not be used to doing weird things to each other yet.
Once you’ve got used to the concrete Objectives it’s time to start working on the abstract ones, things like “get them to disapprove of you” or “get them to love you”. This quite often takes us into the territory of “things you cannot actually make another person do”. Of course you can’t make someone love you. What you can do is decide what being loved looks like to you and commit to that wholeheartedly.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone has started chatting you up, you’ve exchanged a few pleasantries to be polite, then all of a sudden they’ve decided you’re their soul mate and you’re ducking into doorways trying to lose them on the way home? Hopefully not, but the chances are you’ve either been there or know someone who has. That person has made a decision (perhaps not on a conscious level, but a decision nonetheless) about what your behaviour means to them. You sat there and talked to them? Great! You like them!
If that sounds a bit crazy, that’s because it is. But plays are seldom about well-adjusted people behaving in well-adjusted ways, so we need to get in touch with our crazy, obsessive sides. Remember what it was like being a teenager, reading massive amounts into every glance someone threw you or word anyone said? Remember the last time you obsessed over the fact that an audition panel said “thank you” as you left when you distinctly heard them saying “thank you very much” to the person before you? We’ve all got it in us to read things into people’s behaviour. What you’re doing here is committing to a particular interpretation and reacting accordingly.
Attached to your Objective, you have Stakes. Stakes can be summed up as “why your Objective matters”. Why do you care? The higher the stakes, the harder you’ll work to achieve your Objective. For once I’m not going to pick an example from Shakespeare. Let’s go for Moulin Rouge! instead. (Everyone has seen it, yes? If not, go away and see it and then come back and keep reading.)
Satine has to tell Christian she doesn’t love him. Given Circumstances tell us that she does love him and that he loves her. Her Objective is to get him to believe she doesn’t love him (which could manifest in a concrete manner such as “get him not to follow [her]” or “get him to stay away from [her]”). Her Stakes? If she doesn’t achieve her Objective, Christian will be killed – the man she loves will die. Stakes link up with your Given Circumstances – essentially, they’re a way of deciding which Circumstances are most important for that particular scene.
So once you’ve chosen your Objective and the Stakes attached, you can test it with repetition. If you’ve found the right Conditions, the director should be able to see the shape of the scene even without the lines. If they’re not quite right yet, the director and actors work together to find what works. It’s not about getting things right or wrong, it’s more like creating a recipe – trial and error will show you which ingredients you need and in what quantities.
Important things to remember about Objectives and Stakes:
- You set new ones for every scene. That’s not to say that you mustn’t ever repeat them, just that if you do, it should be a deliberate choice.
- Yes, you have to remember separate Objectives and Stakes for every single character you interact with. If you can remember all your lines, this really won’t be a problem.
- It’s all right to have fluctuating priorities and to get distracted. The other character has an Objective on you too, remember, and they might well use tactics that get you caught up in them. Sometimes you’ll get caught up in one of your other Conditions. That’s fine. You’re an actor in the moment, not a machine. Let yourself respond and trust that if you’ve really committed to your Conditions, each one will kick in when it needs to.
- Your priority is your own Objective, not identifying and blocking other people’s.
- Be really specific and uncompromising. If you want to get someone to trust you and you’ve decided that this manifests as them taking both your hands and looking you in the eye, don’t settle for them taking just one or holding your hands with no eye contact. The more precise you are, the harder you have to work.
- It’s best to choose an Objective that you’re actually unlikely to get during the scene. The aim is to pick something that will keep you working throughout the whole scene. If by some chance you do get it, you then have to make sure you keep getting it – don’t let it go. After all, what’s worse than getting what you want and losing it?
- Like all your Conditions, Objective and Stakes are chosen in secrecy. They’re between you and your director. As in real life, you’ll never know exactly what the person you’re interacting with is trying to do.
- Objectives and Stakes are deeply personal. Finding the right things to use – things that are safe but not comfortable, that matter deeply to you but won’t send you round the twist – is what the process is all about. But it’s always up to you how much you share. Affectable is not therapy, it’s not brutal and it’s not compulsory to share your deep dark secrets. It is, however, a supportive environment if you need to.
As ever, I hope all of that makes sense. You’ll never get the full benefit of Affectable just by reading about it, of course. Like all skills, only practical application will do, and everything’s clearer when you get a chance to put it into practice and really feel it at work.