Practical Aesthetics

Practical Aesthetics (PA) is a school of acting centered on the conscious pursuit of a character’s zadacha or “goal” in each scene. Flowing from theorists like Stanislavski, Strasburg, and Robert Cohen (in a tradition that dates back as far as Plato’s Ion), PA views the experience of acting as simultaneously representational and presentational and expects actors to focus on their activity as actors embodying characters while still remaining themselves. Instead of channeling wild emotional energy from personal feelings into their on-stage persona and allowing the emotions of the character to overwhelm their own identity, practitioners of PA intentionally plan each element of their technique prior to actually stepping on a stage so as to maintain a hypostatic union of their fictional and nonfictional identities.

The method of Practical Aesthetics is often summarized by saying that the actor must “get the character’s GOTE,” where GOTE stands for:

Goals: In each scene, the character desires to achieve something (“always pursue this victory”)
Other/Obstacle: In each scene, these are the persons with/from/for the character seeks the Goal (this often involves a struggle of some kind)
Tactics: What is the most natural way that the character would try to achieve the Goal (this information must often be based on the life experience of the actor, not simply on the script)
Expectation/Excitement/Enthusiasm: A scene is not merely an academic presentation of narrative facts, but a passionate display of desire to achieve the Goal at all times (particularly when the character has no dialogue)

As Cohen himself explains, “For most of the GOTE, aspects are only implied by the script—and determining which implications are the correct ones is a highly subjective and imaginative task. Study gives the main lines of a character’s desires, but imagination fleshes them out.” (Acting One, 3rd ed. pg. 56)

Altogether, practical aesthetics offers a cognitive approach to theater that allows an actor to embody a character and imaginatively deliver the narrative to the audience while remaining in creative control of the emotional experience.