One crucial element of our own secret motivations is the concept of “the Dream”.  This concept applies equally to acting theory, to advertising, and to real life.

Acting Studio ChicagoAmong the many scene analysis and preparation questions that the Acting Studio Chicago indoctrinates into its students is: “what is my (i.e. the character’s) dream, and what can I do to my partner to make this dream come true today?” Every person has a dream for themselves: a secret ideal that is usually impractical but theoretically attainable. These dreams are usually irrational, and at times conflicted, vague and possibly even self-defeating. Most people cannot articulate their dream; it remains stuffed away in the sub-conscious mind. But regardless of how conscious we are of our dreams or how nebulous they might be, we always act to further them.

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.”

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.”

When we develop a character, we use the facts established in the script to make inferences about that character, including how they would shape their ideal world. This is essential for defining the central conflict in a given relationship (Audition, Shurtleff, 1978). We often find that the character’s ideal alternate reality would be very difficult or impractical to achieve in real life. For example, in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, Eddie’s ideal world would involve an inappropriate relationship with his orphaned niece. Because of its taboo nature, it’s doubtful that the character has actually played out this alternate reality to its logical conclusion, but all his actions still try to further this repressed dream nonetheless.

Most dreams have to do with the key concept of identification. Identification is essential to the study of motivation and influence. It is the psychological process by which we associate ourselves with ideals, concepts, people or objects which we relate, or to which we feel similar. The Dream concept carries both the power of identification and the power of idealization. In our dreams, we are finally a part of those things with which we’ve tried so hard to associate ourselves.  One’s Dream might involve a prestigious job and a picturesque family. For Ryan Bingham from Up In The Air, The Dream was literally to float above ordinary life, with its banality and commitments. For the character of Olga from Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, The Dream involves receiving the attention and appreciation that everyone lavishes on her youngest sister.

Amanda and Laura in The Glass Menagerie

Amanda and Laura in The Glass Menagerie

Most people dream big, even though the actions that further them may end up being small, and even petty. In Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Amanda still sees herself as a southern belle even though she is a destitute abandoned wife in the middle of The Great Depression. Her “Dream” of genteel social status is huge in its scope and power; the character acts with such airs that one wonders if she’s had some kind of breakdown. But obviously her world has a very small scope, and she winds up dominating and hyper-controlling that little world in order to get even a half step closer to her Dream.

In the AMC television show Mad Men, advertising executive Don Draper talks about The Dream as it relates to the product-buying public. In a memorable monologue from the pilot episode, he refers to this universal ideal as “happiness”.  Here’s his famous quotation:

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

Draper further plays upon the idea of The Dream in a riveting and poignant monologue from the first season finale. He’s presenting an advertising campaign concept to the makers of the Kodak slide carousel. He uses slides from his own family during the presentation, and frames the product in terms of nostalgia and the common american dream of ideal family life. This transcription is from a blog post by Jim Rutter:

Don Draper: Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, uh, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion.

But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Sweetheart. (lights switch off) (changes slide)

Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound”. (changes slide)

It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. (changes slide)

This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. (changes slide)

It goes backwards, forwards, (changes slide) takes us to a place where we ache to go again. (changes slide)

It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. (changes slide)

It lets us travel the way a child travels. (changes slide)

Round and around, and back home again. (changes slide)

To a place where we know we are loved.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that marketing and advertising is about benefits, a concept that is logical. In fact, marketing and advertising are about providing a happier, more ideal life…a life more like The Dream.

The Wizard of AdsRoy H. Williams, the self-styled Wizard of Ads, asserts the basic truth that people will only do that which they first see themselves doing. If they’re going to buy your product, they must first want to identify with it. It must help them get just a little closer to an easier, more ideal life. Advertising tells us that we have the right to feel like an ideal housekeeper if we use the Swiffer duster. It tells us that we have the right to feel like a hot badass if we’re behind the wheel of the new Camero.

No matter what we do for a living, we can take this information and put it to use immediately in our lives. At least one time today, pick one of the people with whom you interact, and ask yourself, “What would his/her dream be? How would they arrange everything if they were in charge, and what are they trying to get from me in order to get closer to that reality?”

Don’t look for big things, as if this person were looking to con you out of your money or had some other specific agenda. Look for the smaller motivations first. Look for the status transaction. Are they trying to get a sense of dominance or submission from you? Do they seek to control you, or influence your behavior? Do they want you to see them in a particular light? Do they want you to identify them with certain traits, concepts or even objects? Are they trying to somehow feel better, larger, or more important by interacting with you? Are they trying to earn something (tangible or implied) from you?

Understanding a person’s personal dream gives valuable insight into how to appeal to and deal with that person, and also how to recreate his or her character type on stage.


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