This weekend at OKTC T.A.G., Jim Schaefer was our guest instructor. Jim (or “Schaef” as he’s often called) is a talented teacher, director and actor, and he taught a class about creating and developing characters onstage. It really focuses on the basics of acting and theatre, which is fantastic for our new young actors to the company to learn, but I think it’s also a great thing for experienced actors to remember and go back to.
First things first: What is a play?
A play is a story that is performed by actors playing characters.
Seems simple enough. But oftentimes it’s something we forget about! Egos can get in the way, along with focus on the extra stuff that makes a play more fun (costumes, props, lights, music, etc). Really, a great play can be performed without all those things. But when it comes right down to it, the most important part of the play is the story. Every aspect of the production, from the actors’ performances to all the trimmings and tech and music and all that other stuff, must contribute to telling the story; otherwise, it’s superfluous.
So, if a play is a story that is performed by actors playing characters, how to we create these characters?
First, when you are onstage, you are actually three people within yourself. Crazy eh? Not really, when you think about it. Let’s say I’m playing the role of Gertrude in Hamlet. Who am I when I step onstage?
- I’m Kerry the person. But audiences don’t care about that. I could have had the worst day in the world, but…
- I’m Kerry the actor. Along with my fellow castmates and with the leadership of the director, my job is to tell the story to the audience by performing my character.
- In the world of Hamlet, I’m Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and Queen of Denmark. How to I get to that point?
Again, three more things. To create a realistic, living, breathing character, I must consider the following three questions:
- Who am I?
- What am I doing?
- What do I want? (Also known as my “objective.”)
How do I answer these questions? Three ways!
- From the text. (Also known as the script!)
- If I can’t get the information from the text, then I can get answers from my director.
- If I can’t get the information from the text or my director, then I have to figure it out for myself and make character choices.
In our T.A.G. classes, all this and more was presented to my students in the span of 90 minutes, so this is the bare bones of the lesson. It’s a good starting point for actors to being their character development.
What do you do to develop your character? Share your ideas in the comments!
Photo Credit: Passionfool Theatre’s “Three in the Back, Two in the Head,” April 2012.
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