Listening Part 3 Raising the Stakes and Give & Take

In this video, Kimberly Jentzen guides actors, Brianne La Flair and Roman Banfield, as they explore the acting tool: Listening.

Listening Part 3 – Give and Take and Raising the Stakes by Kimberly Jentzen

Listening is paramount in acting, and understanding how to inspire the delivery of your lines through the process of listening to your scene partner is vital. Much of what we see in film and television acting incorporates the ability to listen, and then react naturally and instinctively. There are so many ways we listen, but the most important awareness the actor must have is to take note of what motivates the character to listen.

We are motivated to listen when there are consequences that matter deeply to us.

In every drama and comedy there is always something at stake; something that could be taken from the character or something the character needs that they are fighting to get. There may be news your character is waiting for, or actions, or results that will satisfy your character’s desires and what they are hoping to achieve in the scene.

To master listening, listen for what your character wants to hear or feel from the other character… Listen with a hunger to get something that is vital to your happiness or survival.

Characters have a range of desires. Some want attention, affection, satisfaction, approval, money, sex, power, control… any one of these could be the very objective played for your next audition or performance. Or, it could be order, that your character needs, or redemption, forgiveness, a meal, a friend, etc. It could be anything that is true to the script and the material you are working. Use your imagination and study the character. Eventually you will discover the character’s desire or need.

Every character wants something from their scene partner that is intrinsic; something that will help them reach their ideal life.

A chapter in my book, Acting with Impact: Power Tools to Ignite the Actor’s Performance, is dedicated to this power tool. I like to call the objective a “power tool” too, because it is one of the parameters that dictate the give and take with your scene partner. And actors, you know how important that is! And new actors, if you didn’t, hopefully you know now!

In the video I mention the performances from the film Sophies Choice, directed by Alan J. Pakula. Sophie, (Meryl Streep) is haunted by her past, which is revealed in the scene in which she opens up to Stingo (Peter MacNicol). Ashamed and still emotionally tortured by her memories, she bares the horrors of how she was sent to a concentration camp and how she survived. Sophie desperately wants forgiveness for her actions. In the scene, Stingo wants to take her pain away and to comfort and reassure her.

In the Oscar award-winning film, Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis, Forrest (Tom Hanks) wants love (the girl of his dreams), Jenny (Robin Wright). But Jenny wants to escape and find the peace she has never known which was stolen from her when she was a little girl. Mrs. Gump (Sally Field) wants her son Forrest, to have a normal life. Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) at the top of the film, wants to die and follow in his family’s footsteps as a true soldier who died for his country.

Each character cares deeply for their goal, regardless of how difficult it might be to get it.

A character’s objective doesn’t change unless a pivotal event happens that shapes the character’s decisions and actions. Take note, that in most films, each character’s objectives are very unique and different from the other. It’s important to choose a strong and active objective that is born out of and aligns with your character in the script. It also is advised to know how to break down a script and analyze it to discover the strongest and most active objective.

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