Monday, July 03, 2006

Creating Conflict: The Actors' Studio method

To create conflict in dialog, Sol Stein recommends the Actors' Studio method for developing drama: Two actors get brief instructions on what a scene is about and what they want — except that these instructions don't match. Then they are told to ad lib, and the fun begins. Conflictual, dramatic dialog results.

For example, one actor is told that he portrays the principal of a private school that has expelled an incorrigible boy who disrupted every class and disregarded repeated warnings that he would be expelled if he didn't behave. This principal is about to meet the boy's mother, who surely will try to get him reinstated. The principal must hold his ground at all costs. The other actor is told that she portrays the mother of a bright and well-behaved child, whom the principal is prejudiced against and has treated shamefully. She mustn't let him mistreat her son.

You can imagine what transpires then when these two actors meet on stage to ad lib their conflicting scripts in pursuit of their conflicting desires. The audience loves it. They laugh and take sides, immediately involved. If actors can thus create drama, imagine what writers can do with nothing but conflicting "scripts" for their characters.

The Actors' Studio Method does nothing but remind actors (and authors) that they must assume the character's point of view, not the audience's. They must never forget that characters are behaving just as the mother and the principal in this example do.

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