Scene4 Magazine — Nathan Thomas
Nathan Thomas

Evidently folks find our president elusive.  As you may have heard, he's a socialist, a liberal, a centrist, a closet-conservative, an enemy of business, and business's best friend. Naturally such a person might be considered elusive.

For me, the most telling thing about Mr. Obama happened in a 2008 debate in Ohio with Hillary Clinton.  Louis Farrakhan had endorsed Mr. Obama's candidacy.  Ms. Clinton made an issue of this and held on to the issue until Mr. Obama had "denounced and rejected" the endorsement.  Mr. Obama had publicly done one, but not both.  His reaction to Ms. Clinton's treatment of the issue was that he was more than willing to use that language if it suited her.  So he "denounced and rejected" the endorsement. His principle wasn't based on a linguistic distinction – so it was all the same to him.   

So, perhaps, as a writer, Mr. Obama feels comfortable with variable rhetorical devices.  Probably more so than many people.  As long as the given rhetoric doesn't conflict with the principle at hand, he might be willing to adjust how he uses language.

This year marks my 30th anniversary in my little corner of the professional theatre game.  One of the features of my starting out was an on-going discussion about that fundamental concept – the intention.  Or was it your motivation?  Or your goal? Or your objective?  Or was it . . . .?  Wait, it's your. . . uhmmm. . . . .

We use many different words for basically the same concept.  Bobby Lewis famously said that you could call it "spinach" for all he cared. I think we've lost a little of the militancy that attached to the brand of language used in the rehearsal room.  As I recall, when I started out, finding your objective was more considered to be the better way to talk about it than to use that awful, sophomoric word "intention."  Or maybe it was the other way 'round.

Like many concepts common in rehearsal rooms, this is a legacy of Stanislavsky.  Generally he used the Russian word zadacha in a variety of forms in places that we translate into objective, goal, etc.

The concept seems fairly straight forward, but is also fairly elusive.

Take for example the following:

135+22-6+13 x 2=

Here is a problem that presents also a means of solving the problem. The task is to solve the problem and move on – as we all know from elementary school math class.

Stanislavsky developed the concept of zadacha as a rational analytical tool that was not coldly intellectual.  And the steps for using the tool appear reasonably clear.

    1) Examine the "given circumstances" to understand the character's context/situation. 

    2) Examination of the situation poses a problem or task
    [zadacha] to be solved through action. 

    3) Action turns the situation to the character's advantage. 

    4) This individual problem is solved after which the actor proceeds to the next problem or task.

The given circumstances are that I need to leave our conversation for a time because I need to attend to matters in the rest room.  However, due to my social clumsiness, I can't simply say, "I gotta pee" and leave.  So, we've identified the problem.  Using the text and whatever other communicative powers I might have (non-verbal signals, vocal inflection, etc.) I find some way to excuse myself with aplomb and dignity intact.  Problem solved, now I move onto the next.

One of the problems with the teaching of this concept over the years has been allowing something like, "My objective is to remember my Aunt Hattie." O.K.  Tell us when you're done remembering, and we'll get on with the play. Again, Stanislavsky put together a handy list of "rules of thumb" to keep in mind when using this tool.

    1) They [your objectives/inetentions/goals/spinach] must be on our side of the footlights. […]

    2) They should be personal yet analogous to those of the character you are portraying.

    3) They must be creative and artistic[…]to create the life of a human soul and rendered in artistic form.

    4) They should be real, live, and human, not dead, convention, or theatrical.

    5) They should be truthful so that you yourself, the actors playing with you, and your audience can believe in them.

    6) They should have the quality of attracting and moving you.

    7) They must be clear cut and typical of the role you are playing.  They must tolerate no vagueness.  […]

    8) They should have value and content, to correspond to the inner body of your part.  They must not be shallow, or skim along the surface.

    9) They should be active, to push your role ahead and not let it stagnate.[1]

The idea of finding an objective is a simple little tool.  At times, maybe, it has been blown up into something that it's not.  It's not the entirety of what acting is about.  But like the right screwdriver when you have to open up a crazy little battery pack on some gadget, the right tool at the right time can spare much consternation.

Our language may range widely, but it need not be elusive if we keep the ideas in mind.  And a screwdriver can be a warming thing on a cold winter day . . .

[1] Constantine Stanislavsky, An Actor Prepares, New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1936, 1948, p. 112.


View other readers' comments in the Readers Blog

©2011 Nathan Thomas
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine-inView

February 2011

Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

February 2011

Cover | This Issue | inFocus | inView | reView | inSight | Blogs | inPrint | Books | New Tech | Links | Masthead Submissions | Advertising | Special Issues | Payments | Subscribe | Privacy | Terms | Contact | Archives

Search This Issue • Share This Page

RSS FeedRSS Feed

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine - International Magazine of Arts and Media. Copyright © 2000-2011 AVIAR-DKA LTD - AVIAR MEDIA LLC. All rights reserved.

Now in our 11h year of publication with
comprehensive archives of over 6000 pages