As we teach our students and direct our teams, we are often asked about characters. How do we create them and how can we hold onto them?
There are a number of ways to instantly create a character. You can start outward by using your body shape (position) to determine what you feel like, you can start a gesture that might inspire the type of person you are or you might create some sort of movement that dictates what your character does.
Creating an initial character is easy as long as you give yourself permission to be someone that you normally aren’t. Part of the human condition is to act in a way that keeps you safe. In order to stay safe, we are often quiet and unseen. We are polite. We stay safe when we don’t approach people or contradict others. We stay safe by being boring.
In order to be an interesting character, we have to do and say things that we normally would not. Doing this is not as easy as it sounds. You don’t want your characters to be 100% combative or argumentative. Vulnerability is a key factor to developing a full bodied character. It’s okay make yourself the King as long as you have a way to be “gotten”… maybe you have a secret nobody should know or a fear that can become your undoing.
We can also work our characters from the inside out. Start with an emotion and come into a scene charged with that emotion and justify why it applies to the scene you are in. You can also approach a scene with a mantra. Say a line of little significance to yourself like “I want it to be green” and see how that affects a character.
If you’re having a tough time holding your characters in an improv scene, repeat yourself. Let your character step back into the last moment you felt them inside you. Often, we will mimic our scene partner’s choices or we’ll be so focused on what’s happening, we’ll begin to let go of all of the exterior characteristics to concentrate on the scene. We can get lost easily. The best thing you can do is stop, reconnect with your character, then immediately connect with your scene partner.
If you happen to consider yourself more advanced and are looking to be more “organic” in your approach to character creation AND be connected to your scene partner, look at how your scene partner is looking at you and act like the person they are staring at. I know, sounds really weird. But think about the number of times you’ve walked into a room and felt like people were mad, happy, sad, anxious or surprised you were there. Now you have permission to be the person your scene partner thinks you are.
I hope this helps. Let us know if it does or if we are totally off our rocker. Any tips you can share always helps!