Conflict and Control: How Acting Can Save the World

Mark Matthews Advice

In order for a piece of drama (or comedy) to interest and engage an audience it requires CONFLICT.

There are three types:

  • Internal (i.e. “to be or not to be…”)
  • External/Environmental (i.e. fire, flood, broken down car etc)
  • Interpersonal (i.e. two or more people with differing or opposing OBJECTIVES or WANTS)

The fundamental theory of acting technique is that an actor in a play or film etc identifies and pursues their character’s OBJECTIVE and strives to overcome the OBSTACLES (internal, external and/or interpersonal) that are in their way. When the actor fully commits, believes and engages in this imaginary world they will (hopefully) experience an emotional response to the situation which drives them to push even harder to pursue their OBJECTIVE/S.

According to eminent psychologist William Glasser  human beings have an innate and overwhelming desire to CONTROL their “quality world”. This means that everything we do in life is geared towards meeting one or more of our basic NEEDS which are:

  • Survival
  • Love and belonging
  • Power
  • Freedom
  • Fun

When someone or something hinders our ability to meet one or more of these basic needs our ‘quality world’ is diminished or threatened and we will attempt to change or fix the problem. When the OBSTACLE in the way is perceived to be another person (or their ACTIONS) then we may attempt to manipulate or CONTROL that person in order to get them to do what we WANT. Inevitably, the recipient of this CONTROL or manipulation will resist or fight back and CONFLICT will ensue (just like in a drama).

An actor’s job is to manipulate and control the behaviour of other characters in the play or film so their character can get what they WANT. The actor is required to play strong  ACTIONS to try to make the other character change their behaviour. The inevitable CONFLICT that results is what engages and entertains the audience.

The lesson that can be learned from this theory of acting technique is that CONTROLLING others should be left to actors in drama and we should let go of the need and desire to do this in our ‘real life’ interactions and relationships. This would result in a lot less CONFLICT and emotional turmoil and a lot more harmony, peace and happiness.

Similarly, if our political and religious leaders were to understand and act on this theory then there would be fewer (or no?) wars and/or acts or terrorism.

Live and let live. Respect the rights of others to have their own political, moral and religious beliefs and don’t try to impose or change the beliefs or behaviours of others. It doesn’t mean not expressing an opinion that is in conflict with another person or group, it just means not trying to make the other person (or group) change or fit into your own world view.

If our lives and liberties are threatened we of course must defend ourselves. We are free to choose our actions but we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions* Sanctions and punishments must be in place for socially unacceptable, dangerous or illegal acts etc. However, when it comes to emotional, mental and physical health and well-being, letting go of the need to CONTROL others will prevent and/or solve most people’s (and the world’s) problems and CONFLICTS.

Leave the drama and CONFLICT to actors in theatre, film and television and the world will be a happier and safer place.

Mark Matthews – Managing Director

Sydney Theatre School

*Quote by Stephen R Covey