Do's and Don'ts When Creating a Character
(Posted On: 07-04-2015)
Read the script! Read your lines, other characters' lines, the stage directions, the prologue, epilogue, other works by the playwright (especially any others that your character might appear in!), everything!
Research. Learn as much as possible about your character outside the text by researching the time period, the setting, the culture and politics of the area, and all the qualities one could ever know about one's self or another person. . . but for your character.
Take time to do more than memorize! Many people think memorizing lines is the "meat and potatoes" of acting. It isn't! Memorizing is just the first step. If acting was like painting, the memorization would be merely mixing the colors. There's so much more to it. Rehearse many times, for different audiences. Play different objectives and look for new tactics to achieve those objectives every time you rehearse, if possible.
Take risks! In real life, people don't just speak to one another monotone while sitting in a single chair or standing in a single spot indefinitely, so why should anyone do so onstage? Move around, be ridiculous! Honestly, be ridiculous onstage. You might feel odd doing so, but the effects will always be great! Acting mirrors life. If you play it safe, you'll most likely be "just okay" 100% of the time. But if you take a few risks, your work will always be more interesting, more dynamic, more effective, more memorable, and more inspiring. Plus, if something you try flops, you'll have many days of rehearsal to exchange it for something new.
Listen! Listening is very important in theater; it's something actors don't do enough of. I don't mean for purely obvious reasons, either, like hearing your director give you instructions. While in character, actually listen to the words the other actors are saying. Don't just spit out your line simply because it comes next on the page. Actually take the time to listen, comprehend, process what was being said, and then speak when the words come. Not only will this keep you in the moment, your acting will seem infinitely more honest and natural if you do! Listening is supremely important.
Don't just read lines with feeling. Contrary to popular belief, acting isn't "reciting lines with emotion." Don't do it in your performance. It's a start, maybe, in order to get a feel for the material. But merely reciting lines with emotion doesn't take into account anything else about the character, and if your only approach to the piece is reading the lines "with feeling," you'll likely come across as just that. Your goal is to create a character who is saying each line with a distinct thought process and purpose.
Don't just go up and "wing it." This is an easy trap for an actor to fall into. Preparing a monologue or scene for performance takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and sometimes, there isn't enough time to fully commit to or even memorize the piece. However, winging it hardly ever works, even for an experienced actor. More often than not, the audience will be able to tell you aren't prepared.
Don't "play emotions." In theater, there is no way to "play happy" or "play sad" or "play angry." Why not? People have infinitely different definitions of what it means to be happy, sad, or angry. Instead of playing an emotion, play the objective. Your character may have just won the lottery, and that's why he or she is happy. Maybe the family dog just passed away, and that's why your character is sad. Or perhaps you just discovered your significant other has been cheating on you, resulting in a whole slew of different negative emotions. See? Playing objectives can lead to the desired emotions, but just playing an emotion itself is impossible in theater.
Don't employ stereotypes. Just because you were cast as the grandfather in the play, that doesn't mean you have to fake a limp, hunch your back, talk in a quavering voice and act feeble. There are plenty of grandfathers in the world who have none of those qualities. Similarly, being cast as the school shooter in a dramatic work doesn't automatically mean your character is antisocial, dark, cruel, or misunderstood. Instead of playing these traits as stereotypes, think about why your character may have developed those kinds of traits in his or her backstory. Keep what works and toss what doesn't.
Don't just take. Give. Another tidbit that mirrors real life. A production, even when you're the lead, is not all about you. It's not all about any one person. A show belongs to everybody, and everybody deserves an opportunity to have their moment. When onstage, see what you can do to make your cast shine, and they'll do the same. Don't hog the spotlight. Being a diva, as it's called, is something people really disapprove of in theater. Be humble.