3) Controlling Idea (a.k.a. premise, theme, root idea, main action, etc.) Abstract from the literal content of the scene the inner life or action, and title it with a noun: For example, in looking at the literal content of the scene from DWR: Kirsten gets rejected. She is the catalyst by initiating the action—She needs something only Joe can give her. He rejects her conditions—that she be allowed to continue drinking. Rejection is not only the controlling idea, it is the action of the scene. Action and theme are inseparable—they can be stated in the exact same way. What is the scene about? Rejection. (Remember to state it in noun form, in one word.) The motor of the scene, what drives it, is the conflict between her needs and Joe’s needs. He rejects her and she is rejected.
4) Identification. Find a parallel from your personal experience that lines up with the controlling idea. Look at DWR: “Have you ever been rejected?” Do not trip over how literal your experience was compared with the text—e.g., if you are playing Kirs, don’t concern yourself with the fact that you have never been a down and out drunk who wants to go back to her husband and he didn’t want you. Simply concern yourself with rejection. Ever wanted something from somebody and been told “no?” Of course you have. Now, IF you can find a personal example of rejection where the stakes were high, great. If you find nothing that opens the door for you, that gives you something that puts you more or less behind the “character’s” eyes, great. But you might not find any. In this case, just relate to being rejected. This is the beginning of personalizing a role, and identification is something you do throughout the script. You must personally identify with everything. Once you identify with what the given circumstances are for you and what “you” are going through, the text and the other actor(s) will help your identification process. You simply DO NOT sit around thinking about your own life before or during the performance or rehearsal—it takes you out of the play. Let the other actor(s) and the circumstances work on you. There is a leap of, dare I say, faith that must happen. Like that first time you dive into a pool. At some point, you have to trust what you have learned and practices and then just dive!
But what if you simply cannot find a parallel, personal experience that lines up with the controlling idea? Use Stanislavski’s “magic if” or “what if.” “What if I were in these circumstances, what would I do?” This is, in fact, something you do consciously or unconsciously throughout the script. Never think “what would I do if I were the character?” YOU are the character. You are who you are because of your own personal experiences/given circumstances—a “character” is made up of the text and YOU—your life experiences, genetics, what you see in the text, and what the other actor(s) and director bring to the rehearsal process. So, you bring yourself to the writing and use your own uniqueness. You are already an original, so get out of your way!
Continually ask yourself, “What does this mean to me? What do I do to relate to it personally?”
This first act of identification is a key one, because it opens the door for you to identify with the main action.