Actor’s Toolkit: Inner Objects

Mary contacted me looking for another set of eyes and ears as she prepared a monologue for an upcoming audition. One of her bucket list roles was up for grabs, and Mary was in the unique position of being able to audition with a monologue from the script for the desired character. The monologue turned out to be a case study in a type of substitution called “inner objects.” Inner objects are the images, memories, or paraphrases that come to mind whenever you speak. Since these inner objects are personal to you, this method helps the actor deliver a thoughtful, personal performance.

Inner objects are the images, memories, or paraphrases that come to mind whenever you speak.

In The Trojan Women, Queen Hecuba is struggling to process the reality that her beloved city of Troy is in shambles, and she will live out the rest of her days as an impoverished refugee. This monologue is a memory piece that arguably transitions her into the “acceptance” phase of her grieving process.

TroyTo envision the glory days of Troy, Mary could have researched artistic renderings and ancient artifacts of the city, and imagined what it could have looked like. I challenged Mary to, instead, substitute the memory of Troy with a real life memory of a dear home now lost. Mary nodded sadly as she told me about the home where she raised her children—a home that, due to life circumstances, they had to leave despite their attachment to it.

Troy wallsThis monologue is so chock full of rich imagery—color, five senses, size and scale—that it became our mission to preserve that imagery as we searched for inner objects to correspond to each element of Hecuba’s memory of Troy. So, we went line by line and asked, “What does this represent to Hecuba?” and “Was there anything like that in your old home?” [Bonus tip: this also drastically improves your ability to memorize your monologue!]

“What does this represent?” “What comes to mind when you say it?”

I dreamed there was a city.

(“Lets remember your old house.”)

Spires glinting in the sun.

(“What was the sunniest place in the house?”)

Stones cool to the touch, even on the hottest day.

(“What was a cool, relaxing place outside?)

A city of such people,

(“What people enlivened your house?)

such faces,

(“What faces first come to mind?)

such hands,

(“What was the evidence of working and playing in the house?)

vivid with language,

(“What sounds of lively chatter and fun interactions did you hear?)

with stories,

(“What stories did you tell?”)

with plans.

(“What plans did you envision then that will never happen now?)

I dreamed there was a city. My home.

(“Get back on track to the happy memories”)

And the sky arches blue above it as if to hold it in its gaze. As if it would last forever.

(“What did it look like on the most beautiful day?”)

Great in its history

(“How old was your house?”)

Famous in its exploits. Known throughout the world for its…

(“What three things made this house famous throughout the neighborhood?”)

fine waters,

(“What were some examples of refreshing, lively gatherings of people?”)

high vistas,

(“What was the best view from the house?’)

and the smell of the sea.

(“When you step outside, what defined the atmosphere?”)

Troy ancientMary took me on a multi-sensory memory-tour of the best features of her old home. Altogether, her inner objects read this like this:

“I remember my old house, the morning sun shining through the kitchen windows… the feel of the backyard grass between my toes. The home for me and my husband, our children… friends and family were welcome to stay. I remember the cute, chocolate-stained faces of our children, and their smudgy handprints on the glass doors and windows… the sound of the kids playing upstairs in the morning and of telling bedtime stories at night. We would make plans of future graduation parties and picture future grandchildren running around the room… plans that we’ll never see lived out.

But oh, my home… it was picture-perfect. It was one hundred years old! Oh, if those walls could talk. It was known throughout the neighborhood for its large group meals and block parties, the best sledding hill in town, and the buzzing of bees in the giant willow tree in the backyard.”

As Mary spoke the lines of the scripted monologue, her fond memories of her own home ran parallel. Just as images flooded Hecuba in this moment of reminiscence, very personal images and memories—her inner objects—swept over Mary. She delivered a truthful, intensely personal performance, rich with history, that engaged all of my senses and helped me feel like I was there myself. If you take some time to flood your senses with inner objects, the audience will happily follow where you lead them.

What sorts of inner objects come to your mind as you think about your former home? How does this method apply to your current monologue?

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