Alfred Hitchcock, director of such movies as Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest and Rear Window, was asked this question by one of his actors. Perhaps more than one, but we’ll let that pass. Hitchcock’s reply to the actor? “Your salary”.
Of course, Hitchcock was making a little joke at his actor’s expense, albeit with more than a grain of truth. But motivation is important to all actors. Understanding why the character they are playing does what they do helps the actor to give a deeper, more effective portrayal. At any given moment, every character you see on stage or screen is being guided by some sort of motivation. This applies to any and all genres – farce, comedy, thriller, drama… even pantomime!
Motivation depends on what the character is feeling and thinking. It could be something as simple as listening patiently to the detective as he announces whodunnit. Or it could be hunger, which may prompt a character to seek food. Fear may motivate a character to run or hide. Greed can produce a response to steal… or maybe even kill. Motivation, and the course of action it subsequently creates, can take countless forms. And, importantly, a character’s motivation can change from moment to moment, depending on the circumstances in which the character finds themself.
It need hardly be said that a character’s actions and dialogue have all been laid down in the script by the playwright. It is the job of the director and the actors to interpret the script through voice and movement. Spending some time thinking about motivation, its cause and effect, will not only aid the actor in their performance but also enhance the audience’s understanding of what makes the character tick.
During rehearsals for our November 2023 play, Audacity by Simon Mawdsley, director Denise Wilson and her cast took time as a group to examine the motivations of the five characters. Using the script as the starting point, Denise asked each actor to identify their character’s key driving force. They then verbalised this to the rest of the group. This in turn led to a discussion about how the motivations of the characters affected the way in which each actor felt about the emotions and actions they were portraying.
This exercise resulted in a series of video shorts, each instalment focussing on one of the play’s five characters. The videos last for a minute or less, and have all appeared on our Facebook and X social media feeds. It’s fascinating – and informative – to hear an actor responding to a script in this way.
Audacity runs from 13 to 18 November 2023. Book online at Audacity at Little Theatre Gateshead event tickets from TicketSource or call Box Office on 0191 4781499.