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An Acting Lesson

blog info BY   blog info 0 COMMENT   blog info Articles by Adam Hill

An Acting Lesson

At its very basic whether acting in a play, movie, or television show,
a performance consist of three requirements.

Objective – Your character wants something.

Obstacle – Something is preventing your character from achieving the

Action to overcome – Whatever the character needs to do to eliminate
any obstacle.

This lesson will focus on obstacles. For objectives visit archives at
Pageantry Magazine for my article – Objectives – Objectives –

If it’s true in life it’s true in acting!


If my day goes smoothly I can quite honestly state my life has been
without drama. I may have had a few minor obstacles, a slight traffic
jam or a need to refill my gas tank. But, nothing major has disrupted
my life.

However, while driving to an important job interview I am in a four
car fender bender which requires the police, insurance cards et al.
After which, while continuing on my journey to my appointment my tires
deflate and I have to abandon my vehicle along side the road and call
an Uber. These delays make me very late for my job interview. Upon
arriving at my destination I discover someone else has been hired
moments before. I remember my car is still on the freeway so I call a
tow truck which brings my car to my mechanic. The mechanic informs me
that the accident has caused considerable damage to my car. At the
same time my insurance tells me the car that caused the accident has
no insurance, that I’m libel for all repairs under my $1000
deductible. On the windshield of my car is a ticket for abandoning my
car on the roadside. My life is anything but drama free.


A good dramatist may take scenario number two and expound upon the
situation. When the mechanic opens the trunk of the car he finds a
dead body, well…there just may be a film here. The protagonist has
more than a lost job to worry about.

Drama isn’t always tragic. It can be very funny. There is an old
Laurel and Hardy short film titled The Music Box. (Watch it on
YouTube) It’s a half hour of these two great comic performers
attempting to move a piano up several flights of stairs. There is one
Objective, to deliver the piano, and many obstacles that the two face
in order to accomplish their goal.

Obstacles on the simplest of terms.


There are three types of obstacles:

Physical Obstacles! An example of a physical action is – you need to
enter your apartment and you can’t find you keys. Another example –
you have a broken leg and you need to get somewhere quickly. Or,
perhaps, you have a headache and you have to make an important

Emotional Obstacles: Your objective is to convey very painful news to
someone you love or very good news to someone you despise. Your
emotions are making it difficult to achieve your objectives. Perhaps
you need to comfort someone while you yourself are feeling very sad.

How frequent in your everyday life have you had to restrain an emotion
because it would be ill-advised or inappropriate at the moment.


Phycological Obstacles: Nearly all phycological obstacles are
emotional in origin. Nevertheless there will be those characters who
need special research. For example portraying the mentally challenged
individuals. All characters must be researched on some level but the
mentally challenged, because of the uniqueness of each disorder, must
be researched to understand what their individual obstacles may be.


Obstacles may manifest themselves in a more everyday way. Actors are
interesting when they allow their characters to display normal human
behaviors. This consist of tiny obstacles and the accompanying
actions to overcome. You itch, you scratch. You’re uncomfortable,
you shift in your chair. Your muscles ache, you stretch. These are
all acceptable character behaviors when they in no way interfere with
the focus of the scene.

A Scene!


(The oldest brother of four boys returns home from work to be greeted
by his Aunt who informs him his father had died that afternoon.)

Joey’s overall objective is to prepare the best and gentlest way to
tell his younger brothers about their father. His overall obstacles
are the distractions i:e: his Aunt Kate and the need to make dinner
for his brothers.

Aunt Kates objective is to create order out of chaos. Her obstacles
are her insecurity about being useless and her need to be in control.

Joey enters.


Kate: Your fatherʼs gone.

Joey: (After beat.) Whereʼs Mama?

Kate: Your sister and brother-in-law are with her at the hospital. I
would have stayed. Those two young people should be home with their
little baby, but your Mother said she didn’t want her nag of a sister

Joey: Your little sister knew that Iʼd need your support and that I
wouldn’t want to hear the news from anyone but you. (Joey takes a few
deep breaths) I have been practicing how I’d tell the boys when the
time came. The time has come. This won’t be fun.

Kate: You need to keep an eye on your mother when she gets home.
Sheʼs very fragile. Losing our mother and within months, Al. Sheʼs
not use to being on her own. The responsibility may be too much. Being
someone little girl her whole life has not prepared her for whatʼs to

Joey: I know Aunt Kate. Iʼll do my best. (Joey is seemingly engrossed
in opening cans.)

Kate: (Not offering to help.) Iʼm also concerned about Alfie. Your
other brothers are predictable. Tommy will get angry and destroy a
lamp or smash a mirror. Your sister and Frank will calm him down.
Jackie will break down in sobs and Mae will hold him and comfort him
even long after the tears have stopped flowing. Alfie, on the other
hand, will disappear and no one will even notice heʼs gone.

Joey: You donʼt think Iʼll look after Alfie?

Kate: You will be too busy taken care of the rest of the mess. You
wonʼt notice heʼs missing until everything has calmed down.

Joey: (Lost in thought and correcting Aunt Kate at the same time.)
Taking…taking care of…not taken.

Kate: Thatʼs what you heard, a misspoke word? Do you know how insulting that is?

Joey: What? (Realizes what he said.) Iʼm so sorry Aunt Kate. Thatʼs
just reflex. We correct each others grammar all the time. Momma
hasn’t many rules, but correcting grammar is one of them.

Kate: Youʼre lucky youʼre not wearing those canned peas.

Joey: Now you can understand where my head’s at. {Picking up each
can.) So far the kids are having peas, lima beans and beets for

Kate: Put them away and grill the cheese sandwiches for heavenʼs sake.


From the very onset of the scene Kate takes control. She doesn’t wait
for Joey to fully enter from his day at work and is abrupt in the way
she informs him of his father’s death. Kates exhibits her fear of not
being appreciated after being rejected by her sister in the hospital.
She is the big sister and needs to be treated with the respect due
her. Throughout the scene she espouses a knowledge of a family that
is not her own and dictates how Joey should behave. All of this
behavior is the way she overcomes her insecurities.

Joey on the other hand doesn’t say hello but asks about his mother.
He fears having to tell his brothers abut their father. He deals with
the obstacle of Aunt Kate by placating her at every turn. At the same
time he seeks the right words to tell his brothers. He also has the
physical obstacles of washing up after a day at work and choosing the
food for dinner. There is also the chore of opening the cans with a
hand held can opener.

If there are no obstacles there is no play!

The above is just an example of the work we do as actors. Learn to be
a great student. The De Niro’s, Streep’s, Day Lewis’s, of the world
consider themselves students of their craft. Learn all the other
tools needed to become the best in your chosen profession.

I wish success to all…

Adam Hill


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