Direction of Intention

I just got done teaching another 3-Day ACTORS IN ACTION Intensive and breakthroughs were had by all, including myself.

My Students

I love seeing my students grow. And they did. Several of them had taken my other Intensives and 6-Week Courses so I knew what I wanted to work on with them. Peter had been on the brink of tapping into his own emotional world for weeks. Michele was hit and miss on bringing honest human behavior to her scene work. Sometimes she’d nail it and was super believable, relaxed and real, other times not so much. So how could I help them, I wondered.

I got the answer when we dove into playing our verbs. The Verb Game is a favorite in my classes. How it’s played is you take an action word or a “verb”, which is really just a behavior, something you can do to another person, such as “to accompany”, or “to deter”, or “to calm”, and you play it to your partner while saying a line. So the caller will call out the verb, “to romance” and Partner A will then start “romancing” Partner B while saying a line of text. The default line of text we use for the game is, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” This is done simply because almost every actor already has it memorized.

Partner B however, does not “help out” Partner A. They do absolutely nothing unless partner A makes them do something. Therefore, it is Partner A’s INTENTION to make Partner B feel “romanced” if that is the verb they are playing. If Partner A cannot read some kind of emotional or behavioral movement in Partner B, hopefully on the spectrum of being romanced, then they have failed. They have not achieved the object of their intention. Here’s three things to remedy that:

Three Tips for Better Acting:

  • Constantly check in with your partner to see if any movement has been made. In the ACTORS IN ACTION method we call that “checking”.
  • Adjust your behavior to better achieve your intention. Think of a boxing match. Contestant 1 swings, so Contestant 2 ducks or will be knocked out. Then recovering, Contestant 2 swings at first opportunity. They bob and duck, tuck and swing going back and forth and on and on until somebody wins. That ability to adjust, to go with the flow, to respond to what is really happening is what in acting we call “working off”.
  • Keep your intention going toward your partner. Think of your intention as an “invisible string” that is always attached to your partner. This does not mean you have to constantly stare at them, but even if you are looking away your intention is pointed at your partner, that energy is going into them. That is phrased as the “direction of your intention”.

Don’t Drift

If you let your intention drift away from your partner, you’re sunk. Because of the Structure of Drama (desire vs. obstacle = conflict), in acting you are always trying to get your partner(s) to do something. Now, if your “invisible string” detaches from your partner and wanders off say to the audience, your intention will change altogether. The direction of your intention will be on the audience and will probably no longer be “to romance,” it will more likely shift to something like, “to get the audience to think I’m super funny or super brilliant”. Because it will no longer have anything to do with your partner it will cause your behavior to become fake and manipulative, some call that “showy” or “being too big”. The audience will suddenly feel a shift, the focus will be on them and what they think of you as an actor, not as the role you are portraying. That will make them uncomfortable. They’ll be pulled out of the moment. They’ll see you are no longer exhibiting honest human behavior, and that will make them disappointed because after all, whether they know it or not, that is what they came to see.

Fine acting allows the audience to escape into a world they’ve never been to before. At the same time, it allows them to experienced real emotions evoked by what they see on stage or screen. We are all human beings and thusly respond to truthful emotions. Those moments of truth come from witnessing honest human behavior, which an actor can best achieve if their intention is directed to where it should be—on their fellow actors and the world they are creating together.

Back to Peter and Michele

ACTORS IN ACTION 3-Day Intensive Students Michele and Peter

Peter’s issue was he wasn’t attaching to himself enough. He was playing his actions (verbs) beautifully, but was leaving a key element out of it, his feelings and emotions. I just had him “open up” a little bit and allow his feelings to ride out on the energy of his intentions that were pointed at his partner. It made a huge difference. Suddenly we were moved, seeing into his inner world. I discovered Michele had that “wandering eye” we actors get and often let her intention point away from her partner out to the audience. For her it was just a matter of training that intention to point back to her partner when it drifted off.

My breakthrough of understanding the direction of intention helped coach both of them to consistently better acting. I hope it helps you, too.



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