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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Conflict 101

After a couple of blogs about social media, I though maybe (just maybe) it was time for some... I dunno... acting content or something. I know, I know. I'm crazy like that.

Here are some of my thoughts on the craft. I'm going to run down a list of some of the basics for you, in a way that makes sense to me. Some of this may be super basic for you experienced actors out there, but it's always great to get another perspective on things.

First, good acting has all of what I call the three C's of acting: connection, communication and commitment. Today I'm going to talk about communication. Specifically about one aspect of communication: finding and clarifying conflict.

What is our job as an actor? Well, the way I see it, one of our jobs is to identify the central point of conflict in a scene, crystalize it and intensify it. I can't overemphasize this point: conflict is what makes an audience watch something. Why is football more interesting than golf? The conflict is clearer. Which would you rather watch, a sprint or a marathon? The sprint has more immediate conflict.

Why do men and women typically like different kinds of films? Because we see conflict in different ways. A guy says he just got into a fight and there's generally blood on the floor. Ask a woman about the fight she just had, and she'll describe a verbal barrage that left her opponent emotionally shattered. Different kinds of conflict, different films.

How do we know what the central conflict is? Well, that can be a tough one, and is open to a fair amount of interpretation. When in doubt, ask the director. But as we're practicing our craft, we need to learn how to read scripts to find the conflict.

Most trained actors know to use objectives.  We figure out what our character wants and then we pursue it. Generally, it's phrased like this: "I want...." That's a great start. But what happens when one character wants five dollars and the other wants help with homework?  There's no clear conflict, so essentially, they end up acting in scenes that are almost separate from one another.

A tool that I've found immensely helpful is to simply add two words to the phrase. "To convince." Every time we open our mouths we are trying to convince someone of something. Every single time. And in order to find the central conflict, we need to find the two opposing objectives. As an example: Romeo wants to convince Juliet that they need to act on their love right now. Juliet wants to convince Romeo that they don't need to act on their love immediately. Now we can play out the balcony scene with conviction and... CONFLICT!

Intensifying the conflict sparks our creativity. We come up with tactics (ways to accomplish our objective) naturally, organically. In other words, our bodies tell us without us having to think about it during performance.

There's so much more that I could say on this topic, but this is turning into a novel. So, for now, do pretty much the opposite of what we do in real life. Seek out the conflict and put it out there front and center! Your audience will thank you for it.

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