So we took our time brainstorming our characters’ place in life, and what they were feeling. And then we pondered what their dreams would be, dreams big enough to fight for, and crucially, dreams that the other character could help us to achieve. This confirmed to us what Mr. Shurtleff also said: “Every scene is a love scene.” What fireworks! At last they found the key that unlocked their emotions, and they connected honestly to their scene partners like never before.
Tapping an inexhaustible power
The other payoff of this ‘dreamquest’ is that you, as the actor, will never be bored again – no matter how long the run. You’re now on a path with your character where the depths of identification and feeling are inexhaustible. Proof? When I performed my solo drama ‘My Name is Bill: An Afternoon with an Alcoholic,” I gave my character the dream of being a national celebrity, loved and applauded by all, and he was going to die trying to achieve that dream. The irony is that he failed in the end and created Alcoholics Anonymous, ensuring that no one would ever know who he was! But during that 60-minute struggle, I was fighting impossible odds to make his dream come true. I was fighting with the audience and fighting with myself. This made the acting immediate, gripping and fresh every night. For 36 performances. And I still never got to the bottom of that character’s darkness.
Ask yourself some tough questions
So my suggestion for actors, in any part you play, is to ask yourself, as Olivier did: “What is my character’s weakness?” which leads to the question: “What is my character’s dream?” (and the deeper and needier the dream, the better). If you can relate this weakness to some personal weakness you have (don’t worry, the audience will never know), and then “aspire to the strength,” then you can fight the other person like mad to get what you hunger for. Voila: drama! I promise you loads of joy on this ‘dual-carriageway’ of discovery, as you learn more about yourself as a human being, while helping the audience, who also have dreams, to learn more about what it means to be human as they watch your story unfold.
Bryan Bounds is an award-winning US-born, UK-based actor, teacher, writer and creator of the Neuro Acting System of actor training. He began his professional career began in 1984 and received an MFA in Acting in 1991.