All drama is about conflict. It drives the plot; it gives the characters something to work for and it entertains the audience. And most of the time, the conflicts in a story give rise to change, growth or newfound wisdom. So, since conflict is fundamental for good drama, it is important for actors to learn how to bring out and sustain the conflict in the scenes they play – and this is exactly what we aim to do in this installation of articles (Conflict, Part 1 and Part 2).
Most people assume that conflict extends only to physical assaults, but conflict is much more than just physical violence. You see, conflict is essentially the struggle for dominance, and this can involve subtle moments, simple dialogue and quiet scenes in which a character sets out to empower his life.
Conflict consists of three main elements: desire, obstacles and the lack of compromise. It is your job as an actor to ensure that there is always some degree of conflict present in any scene. Once the conflict is over, so is the story. As such, the character’s desire must not be easily satisfied or the story will end before it can begin.
Stories are about people whose lives are incomplete and therefore have unfulfilled needs. Desire exists when something emotionally important is missing from the character’s life, taken away or not yet attained. The greater the missing element, the greater the desire to obtain it. It is mesmerizing to watch a character find his greatest desire and do absolutely everything in his power to achieve it.
There must be obstacles or barriers, or opponents (or a series of these) that prevent the character from obtaining what he wants. Obstacles can come in the form of internal or external obstacles. As actors, your task is to identify the obstacles that stand in the way of your characters, and to prioritize them. That is to say, decide which are the ones that need attending to most (they are often the ones that are most damaging and threatening to the character’s cause). Fight the hardest for those.
In life, conflict seems to be inevitable. Conflict drives motivations and on stage, it is what drives the actions of your character, pretty much like the key to active and dynamic acting. In our next article, we’ll explore the last element of Conflict and some questions that are effective in helping your character to identify conflict.