For example, in my play script 'The Cut' (unpublished) the character Justine has undergone a major change in her life. She's ended her long-term relationship and moved hours away from her childhood home in the city to a small regional community, where she's picked up work as a preschool teacher in the nearest main town. In one scene she is talking to the character Jeremy, a young man with an apparent large number of flaws when it comes to interpersonal relations and general behaviour. Upon first run at the dialogue the actress playing Justine noted that she felt Justine was trying to be comforting to Jeremy. "Why?" I asked, because most of the characters had given up on him and we needed to know why Justine didn't. We found our answer by considering her Given Circumstances. As a preschool teacher, Justine is trained in the old educational adage, "Hate the behaviour, not the child." Knowing this about her allowed us to see that she is someone who takes time to look beyond a person's poor behaviour, to find the reasons driving the behaviour. Armed with this knowledge the actor is now able to buy into Justine's empathy and embody it with authenticity.
A simple way to start considering Given Circumstances is to read through your script and answer these questions about your character:
I encourage the actor, after they have done this work, to keep the "Why?" out on the table. Whenever you run into a scene or section of dialogue that is challenging you, just grab that "Why?" and keep asking it until your answer sufficiently evolves.
I've read many articles by wonderful practitioners and theorists extolling the virtues of performance training as a breeding ground for empathy. Definitely, Konstantin Stanislavski's Given Circumstances is one of those tools of drama that promotes an empathic approach. It is a transferable skill that we should all try to take into our daily interactions by asking ourselves, "What are this person's given circumstances that have led them to say these words or do this thing?" It has certainly proven an effective tool for me in fostering empathy within myself and developing a more constructive level of interpersonal communication.