After my six-year-old, Murphy, recently apologized to his ten-year-old brother for “accidentally” soaking him with a water squirter, my oldest complained that Murphy didn’t sound like he was truly remorseful. Good call, I thought. Murphy not only sounded unrepentant, he managed to make the apology sound victorious.
“What’s the matter?” Murphy said, innocently. “I told Spencer I was sorry.”
I pointed out that Spencer was responding to Murphy’s intention, not his words. “Were you really sorry or were you secretly happy you got Spencer’s shirt all wet?” I asked. Murphy’s sheepish look said it all.
When it comes to the theater, the actor’s “intention” is what makes his or her interpretation of a role unique. Is Shakespeare’s Iago an ambitious player or a bloody sociopath? Depending on what the actor intends, the audience will see quite a different characterization.
A few years ago, when I taught beginning acting to adults, I would give two actors a purposely vague scene that I had written and then secretly give each actor an intention to play, like “You are about to rob your partner.” Each scene opened with the same “Hello,” “Hello,” “Do you have the time?” Interestingly, when the actors’ intentions changed, the scenes took on very different colors. It occurred to me that this exercise might work with Murphy and Spencer.
Before we started, I highlighted each of my son’s parts on their own scripts so they could each find their lines easily. Murphy wanted to read through the script by himself first so that he wouldn’t stumble. After that, I asked the boys to simply read through the rather boring script out loud. The scene sounded bland and, they agreed, was “kind of lame, Mom.” After that, I whispered an ‘intention’ to each of them. Whispering anything to my sons immediately creates more interest. Apparently, secrecy equals instant drama.
I whispered to Spencer that he was in a huge hurry to get to a party that Murphy hadn’t been invited to. I whispered to Murphy that he should try to make Spencer laugh. I decided that I’d give the simpler intention to my youngest. This time, when they ran the scene, Spencer anxiously hopped up and down and Murphy used a goofy voice that made him sound like a cartoon character. Murphy’s silliness annoyed Spencer who was keen to get to his fictitious party. Suddenly, the scene had life and seemed to be about something.
When the scene was done, Spencer asked Murphy, “Why were using that voice?”
Murphy countered, “Why were you bopping around like you had to go to the bathroom?”
When they revealed their intentions to each other, they laughed and begged for new ones. After we ran through my list, they made up a few of their own, although I had to nix, “Try to make your partner throw up.”
Later that evening, I dipped my head into my sons’ bedroom, “Time for bed,” I said.
“What’s your real intention, Mom?” asked Spencer. “Are you just telling us to be quiet or to actually go to sleep?”
I snapped off the light. Sometimes, it’s easy to make your intention crystal clear.
Make it Happen
Remember, what an actor says is only part of what’s going on in a scene. What the actor intends or wants to accomplish is the other part. Here is a quick overview of how to play with this idea:
- Print two scripts. Highlight the lines for Character #1 on one script and the lines for Character #2 on the other.
- Ask the children to read through the scripts to familiarize themselves with the lines and the content. Point out the scene isn’t really that interesting on its own.
- Whisper an “intention” from the list provided or make up some of your own. If the kids are old enough, ask them to come up with their own intentions.
- Ask the children to read through the scene again keeping their new intentions in mind.
- Ask each child to guess the other one’s intention. (For another variation, ask the children to make up their own intentions and share after they have run through the scene.)
Here is a quick script to play with (hint: you can print it by using the print funtion on the top right of the Web page)
Your (Best) Intentions List
A Scene for Two Characters
Here are some to get you started-- be sure to add your own!:
- You are in a big hurry to get to a party that your partner hasn’t been invited to.
- You need a hug from your partner.
- You want to make your partner very nervous or suspicious.
- You have just gotten some bad news and you want to go home.
- You just got some good news and you can’t wait to tell your partner.
- You want to tell your partner a juicy secret, but you know that you shouldn’t.
1. DO YOU HAVE THE TIME?
1. IT’S LATE.
2. YES. I HAVE LOTS OF THINGS TO DO.
1. DO YOU NEED ANYTHING?
2. NO. THANKS.
1. IT MAY RAIN.
1. I SAID, “IT MAY RAIN.”
1. WHAT TIME DID YOU SAY IT IS?
1. OKAY. WELL.
1. THREE-THIRTY. THAT’S LATE.
1. YES. IT DEPENDS.
2. SO… WHAT?
1. I GUESS I’LL GO.