Member Login
Person sitting on a paper airplane holding a laptop

Spines – Super Objective

If an interper understands the character’s SPINE, it can motivate their intentions throughout their performance. It can help them understand their throughline of action. “Throughline” is an acting term coined by Constantin Stanislavski. The idea is that an interper should know what their SPINE (OBJECTIVE) is in any scene and the line of thought, which leads them from one objective to the next. That progression is the emotional throughline that propels a character through the story.

Every character has an inner desire, goal, or motivation that drives their action. This goal is the secret SPINE. As the director of the play “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn, I knew every actor’s spine needed to have a clear and defined urgency. At first, I chose the spine: TO SAVE THE PLAY; however, the word SAVE did not provide enough motivational speed for each actor, so I changed the overall all spine TO RESCUE THE PLAY, and all of a sudden, each actor seemed more determined to do their part to rescue the play. 

An interper needs to identify their character’s spine for the story up to the climax. At this point, the character experiences a turning point, and the spine may not apply after the climax. For example, in the story “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman, Mia is in a terrible accident and loses her entire family. In the cutting’s climax, she decides to live, so the spine that keeps her story moving forward is her STRUGGLE To Accept her new life. The spine is “to plus a verb.” By using the spine, the interper has motivation for the entire story’s arc.

Everything the character does is motivated by their spine. The spine does not change with every scene. The character’s spine drives the interper’’s action for the entire piece. Once an interper achieves their spine, the story is over. Thus, an interper needs to choose a SPINE that will lead them to their CLIMAX. A character spine is written as the word “TO” and an “ACTIVE VERB.”

Here are some examples of possible spines

They should be direct and straightforward. The small sample of potential spines below comes from a class taken at the Freehold Theatre, Seattle, Washington.

    • to avoid being tracked down
    • to avoid the truth
    • to be on guard against
    • to bury my problem
    • to carry out the mission
    • to climb out of myself
  • to connect everything
  • to connect my dream
  • to defend what is mine
  • to do what I have to do
  • to escape into another world
  • to fight for what I believe in
  • to fit in, to get along
  • to get back to a better time
  • to hold fast to tradition
  • to lift their spirits
  • to nurture those around me
  • to prevail
  • to realize a dream
  • to resist
  • to save my soul
  • to seek the truth
  • to share my space
  • to take care of

Once your student has completed the character analysis work on each of their characters, sit down with them to talk about their choices. Their analysis must be true to the script and the character. At this point, they can begin to play with the physical and vocal characteristics of each character. Make sure you have your student write down or record their choices so they do not forget them.