Most acting coaches teach about analyzing your script and breaking it up into sections. I like to divide each scene into “tactics”. These are the ways your character attempts to achieve his or her “objective” in the scene.
Your objective is what your character desires to achieve with the other character(s) in the scene. It is a single intention that lasts throughout the entire scene, from beginning to end (unless an event occurs to alter it, like a fire breaking out in the middle of a marriage proposal). The aim is to change the other character from point A to point B. The other character is resisting the change in some way or has the opposite opinion. This is what propels your character through the scene. And the test of whether he achieves his goal is always in the other character. Remember, the scene is never about you. It is about the other person and whether or not you succeed with him or her. When deciding on your objective, it shouldn’t be too easy and it should be something interesting to attempt…something with a definite success or failure by the end of the scene.
So your character is on a singular mission to influence someone else. That does not fluctuate. What does change, (and needs to change to make an interesting performance) is the different ways he attempts to make this happen. He/she tries different tactics to get the other character to shift their position.
Think back to when you were a child and you were trying to convince your parent to take you somewhere fun…like an amusement park. You might start out by saying, sweetly, “Mom…I cleaned up my room and I finished all my homework for the weekend…and I did get an A on that history test. Could we go to Disneyland?” We might call that the “I’ve been good” tactic. But even though Mom is impressed with all your good deeds, she says this isn’t a good time for her to go to “The happiest place on earth”.
You have failed so far. You need to try something different. Her “no” is what triggers a transition to a new tactic. So you say, “But Mom, all my friends are going tomorrow. I’ll be the only one who isn’t there!”. Now you are employing guilt to get what you want. We might call this the “poor me” tactic. Still, Mom does not comply. Once again her “no” triggers a change. Time to try something new.
So you plop yourself down on the couch and cross your arms as you stick out your lower lip and say, “Forget it! You never understand.” This could be called the “pouting” tactic. This definitely does not convince your mother, but it was worth a try. To your chagrin, she says no.
This sends you into a desperate flurry. Tears well up in your eyes as your face turns red and you scream, “Just leave me alone! You’re the worst mother ever!” You run to your room and slam the door. This we will call the “angry” tactic. Perhaps not the best move, but what you were hoping for is that she would follow you into your room and say, “I’m sorry honey. I can see this is important to you. Of course you can go.” If she had agreed at anytime during the scene, you would not have needed to try the other tactics. It was her refusal to be affected by the chosen strategy that made you try a new one.
In fact if she had shown any sign that one of the tactics was working you wouldn’t have changed it. You would have played it for all it was worth. It is always the other character that causes you to either continue or alter your strategy. The test is in the other person.
But there is nothing more boring than playing one tactic throughout an entire scene. When choosing a monologue or scene for audition purposes, you want to look for one that has many opportunities for different tactics. I see actors scream with anger throughout an entire audition, thinking they are being very dramatic. They are just being unimaginative and dull. Read your script carefully and look for the tactics and when they change. If it is well written, they will be easy to find.
A tactic can last a whole paragraph or you could have several tactics in one sentence. But you want to be aware of the changes and be able to allow the other character’s reaction to you to trigger them. Look back and see how different each of the above tactics are. Think of how different you could make them. Each tactic allows you to travel to a whole new realm of your character’s personality. This is what makes for an interesting performance…both for you and your audience. One challenging objective with many different tactics = one fantastic scene