Audience: actors and actresses who are just beginning their acting career
Carolyn Shima is a high school junior who has acted in dramatic and comedic plays and musicals. Some of her lead roles include Abigail in “The Crucible” and Rosie in “Bye Bye Birdie.” She is active in both her Community and High School Theater and has been invited to participate in the pre-college intensive drama program at University of California Los Angeles this summer. She plans to pursue a career in acting after attending college.
Getting into Character
Imagine a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet is portrayed by the actress as a boisterous, uncivilized, obnoxious young girl. Needless to say, this Juliet certainly would not fit into Shakespeare’s striking play. The importance of character in drama is immeasurable. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult for an actor to convincingly portray a character because they are unable to get into character. Some important parts of getting into character are knowing the background of your character, delivering lines correctly, and expressing the character’s emotions effectively.
Researching your character
When acting, it is extremely important to be able to identify with the character. In order to do this, it may be necessary to do some research.
Historical plays: When a production has a historical background the actor can research the true-life basis of the character. For example, while portraying Abigail in The Crucible, it was very helpful to be familiar with the personality of the actual Abigail Williams. It may also be helpful to understand the historical background of the time setting, researching the time period of the setting may help the actor to more fully understand the mindset of the times.
Fictional plays: Acting in a completely fictional role can be a little more challenging. If the character itself is not historical, it may be helpful to research the playwright through biographies, since many playwrights include aspects of themselves in their characters. Analyzing the script may also help you to further understand your character. Playwrights often add depth to their characters through the words of other characters; be sure to pay extra attention to scenes in which the other characters are talking about your character. The script provides information through footnotes and stage directions as well that will often provide hints as to how the characters will react to certain situations throughout the play. These seemingly frivolous comments can often impart vital information about how the characters think or feel.
Applying the research: Researching the play will ultimately pay off, but it is important for the actor to successfully apply the research to acting. Throughout any production it is important to understand the underlying message the author was trying to convey. Look over all of your research and determine whether there is a theme throughout the hidden aspects of characters, the historical evidence (if any was available), and the overall mood of the script. If you have trouble interpreting the author’s message from your research, try talking to your director, who should certainly have a good grasp of it. Most importantly, the research you have done should help you to identify with your character. Finding a common view or interest with your character will help you to more fully understand the thought process and emotions of this “person.”
Obviously, delivering lines in character is essential to your overall performance. Much more goes in to reciting the lines than many actors realize. Lines should be delivered with energy, and as though the actor is living the situation him or her self. Obviously, the first part of delivering lines is to memorize all of the lines. Many professors feel an actor should memorize the lines and then forget them. This means that the actor should know the lines, but when on stage, it should not seem as though there is a script. In other words react to the other actors on stage as if the they have said this for the first time.
Energizing the performance: Every actor should understand the need for energy in a show and also where to find that energy. The most obvious place to look for energy is the audience. Feeling the energy of the crowd will help the actor to “get pumped;” if the audience is enjoying themselves, than their energy should help the actor to enjoy his or her self on stage. To feel the energy of the crowd, an actor must learn to let their guard down. Many new actors will have the tendency to “shut down” and try to make the audience disappear in his or her mind, but this will most certainly detract from their performance. When performing in a production with multiple performances, it is usually very apparent which show had the most interactive audience because the energy of the audience directly affects the energy of the actors. As long as the actors allow themselves to hear the laughter, to see the smiles, and to feel the emotions of the crowd this rule will always apply.
Understanding the character’s motivation: The actor must understand the character in order to deliver lines correctly. When beginning a new production, an actor should analyze the scene, determine the situation, and decide how this situation affects his or her character. Using the actor’s knowledge of the character, the actor can decide how the character would feel in this situation, and how this event in the play will affect the character. Every actor’s interpretation of a character will be a little different, so feel free to express what you think the character would be feeling when saying the lines. If an actor’s interpretation is wrong, the director will surely make the necessary corrections.
Determine the character’s goal: The character, just as most people, will be motivated to say or do things because of their goal or desire. In every scene, the actor should try to determine what it is the character is hoping to gain from this conversation, or action. Once the actor can determine this key factor, it will be much easier to decide how the lines should be said.
It is extremely important to not only say the lines, but to feel them. Too many actors deliver their lines as though they are reciting them from memory, or reading them from a cue card. Actors must learn to express the emotions of the character in every action or word. Once the actor has a good understanding of their character (which they should certainly have by now) it should be easy to express the character’s feelings.
Tough scenes: There will be times, however, when expressing the character’s feelings will be difficult or uncomfortable. In many productions, the characters express tragedies which have happened to them. To convincingly portray these extreme emotions, actors must learn a technique called “affective memory.” Affective memory is when the actor uses experiences in his or her life to produce the necessary emotions. For example, if a script calls for an actor to cry, the actor may recall the death of a loved one. In a sense, the actor must relive this experience on stage, and apply it to the character’s experience.
Making the magic: While acting, never forget that acting is all about the audience. Without the audience there would be no reason to act. So, be sure to always keep in mind that the audience has a different perspective of things. They have never seen the practices or the scripts, to them, each play should seem completely real. In a real world setting, emotions and words flow from people uncontrollably. An actor must learn to create this feeling on stage. When another character speaks, the actor should respond first with emotion and then with the necessary line. In real life, emotion is always a person’s first reaction to a stimulus, then, either action or words may follow. An actor should constantly be feeling things while on stage. It may help in expressing this continuous emotion to get into character at least two minutes before going on stage and two minutes after leaving the stage. This way, the emotions will feel more natural not only to the actor, but to the audience.
Growth of character: In every play, just as in life, the characters will grow with time. It is important to grasp the changes in character that must occur from scene to scene. Identifying the message of the play (which was discussed earlier) will help the actor to determine how the character should grow throughout the play. Pick out key events in the character’s “life” and determine how a real person would be changed from these events. The character should change according to the maturity and experiences or the character.