touch·stone noun \?t?ch-?st?n\
a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing
Maybe I’m using the wrong word here, and if there is a word that more aptly describes what I’m talking about I’d love to hear it.
There’s a classic acting exercise where you describe your character’s most prized possession. It should be a physical object, something that can be carried on their person It’s stronger to not think in financial terms. An example:
My character’s most prized possession is a medal he won in the seventh grade for winning the 100 yard dash. It was the one and only time his father ever hugged him.
Citizen Kane at its heart is a perfect example. I won’t spoil the ending for you just in case you haven’t seen the movie, but let’s just say that Kane’s most prized possession had nothing to do with his enormous wealth.
Physical objects are wonderful tools to get things out of your head and into your body. It’s the difference between reading an article about sunsets and seeing one while sitting on a mountaintop.
I’m playing hookey to act in a production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. And I’m doing a little variation on this physical object exercise to help me with the role. My character is the father who sacrifices all (including his heath) for the sake of his wife, his extended family, and his children.
I have a wife whom I love deeply, but I don’t have children. The love a parent has for a child is a bond so deep and on a level of caring so intense that it can’t be compared to anything else. So what do I have to draw on to understand that bond?
The closest I have is a niece and nephew. I love them both and want the best for them, so I’m borrowing them in my own mind as surrogates.
On my last birthday I got a hand-made card from my two-year-old niece. There was an outline of her hand on the outside and some art on the inside. It meant a lot to me to get it. I keep it on my mirror in the dressing room and I make sure I give it good looking over before I go onstage. That physical connection gives me much more background and understanding of the role than a hundred pages of written biography ever could.