Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 4th Dec 2012 + Character Exercises

Big class. Fun class. Some funny material and some very strong work. And there were Twinkies for everyone! Katherine the singing maid. Tyler the angry young actor. Casey the likable real estate agent losing the keys to the car. Andy the comic and his shrink. Dana the 1960’s Southern belle CIA spy in Berlin. Alex (welcome back) comparing notes on her date. Matin the Southern smooth talker. And Robert auditing and chiming in with some funny…. interesting commentary.

Character

So the theme of the night was character. My favorite definition of talent is the ability of the actor to be in the character’s situation. Sometimes that’s a stretch and sometimes it’s just a slight adjustment.

We saw a range last night. For example… Casey playing very close to himself all the way to Alex’s whacko….. but we would agree that both created and played characters. And both were character revealing scenes.

We saw and felt the process as Dana found her character’s mind. My teacher used to say, “Get the character’s mind and you’ve got the character.” Katherine made an adjustment that revealed the What…. as in “What was going on in the scene?” We were watching character grow in these actors. They were exploring and discovering character… as well as still learning the story and the life in the scenes. It was early process. Andy found the opening energy for the scene by reacting to another never seen character. Tyler explored his character by listening and reacting and building an arc for him. And Martin adjusted vocally and verbally with his accent to find his rhythm and musicality. All were explorations of character. All were the process of learning to “be” in the character….. and there are lots of ways to find character.

So there are lots of ways to work on character. Tonight we worked with emotional adjustments, intellectual adjustments, physical adjustments, verbal adjustments(accents) and all helped to develop character. Some characters come out of our core and are close to who we are. Some are a stretch. Some grow slowly and have to be worn like a costume that you have to get comfortable with. Some characters will just leap out of you body(Alex’s).

So one more time let me beat this drum……… We’re always playing/working with the WHOWHATWHERE ? And who is always first. The element of character solves so many questions. It gives us confidence, energy, and presence. In classic theatrical actor training there is always an element of improv in rehearsing and scenic development. In rehearsals you can improv with your fellow actors and play and explore. Any good rehearsal period should included such work. In this modern world of TV and Film the concept of rehearsal and character development has all but disappeared due to the demands of production scheduling. It’s a loss for the craft of acting. But you must find ways to think about and develop your characters. To be sure some characters will spring forth fully formed from your talent but when that doesn’t happen we must play/work/grow into character. Below are some exercises that I use.

This was a provocative and inspiring night. A wonderful night of theater.

I have shared some character exercises below.

Casey…

This was a slight variation on Casey. The work centered around whether his energy was collapsing in his body because he was a nice shy guy. Or whether you could be nice and still be assertive and projecting energy and his will. His shyness was the key. Your first take the shyness reduced or contained his presence. Once you allowed him to be present and even assertive he was able to drive the scene but still be nice. You found a believable balance. This shift upped his energy and presence and made the banter and pace much stronger. This is a great fulcrum element… you play it shy and the scene slows down… drop the shyness the scene pops. Nice and shy are two different elements. I saw the difference in the body’s posture too… When shy…. your shoulders collapsed and your energy turned somewhat inward…. and it seemed like there was less energy. Once you moved away from shy your posture straightened and your energy/presence asserted itself. Here again is the question of specificity of character… As you worked the generic nice guy nerd disappeared and he emerged as a much more solid specific believable real estate agent. Good process.

Tyler…

Good material for you but I think some of the other stuff we’ve worked on lately is better for this manager project. That Machine gun approach to some of the dialogue is your default choice of late. It’s what I call the “throw away” style and it can work in small sections when it’s motivated by something in the scene. But when you use it this early in the process it becomes a tone that just blocks every thing else out. If you’re going to use it make sure you first track the scene developing all the emotions. Over emphasize the emotions with strong adjustments so you have a strong emotional base that you can then cover with the machine gun approach. Your prep was much better this week so you were comfortable and able to listen and play. BUT…. When you approach the life in a scene with this predetermined delivery… the machine gun approach… it blocks out the impulses that listening provides. So we could see you listening but your response was limited by the style of speech. A character can be created around a speech pattern, an accent, or even a tone…… But that choice shouldn’t prevent or limit emotional experience or expression within the scene. It’s similar to the pattern that an over played stage direction can impose. As when actors see the stage direction ANGRY and then plays angry(rather that allowing the scene to make them angry)…. then that stage direction/adjustment separates them from the life in the scene. Perhaps its as simple as we’re trying to get more colors into the scene. If you start the scene angry and end at angry there is no arc. I still would like to see the Doug and Clyde again. It’s a verbal challenge and a character that you’ll see a lot of in current writing.

Martin…

Yes you’re looking for ease and fluidity. It all boils down to charm…. and charm is old fashioned…. and so Southern. Maybe there’s an Eddie Haskell resonance? But when someone is raised in the south and marinates constantly in the charm pool… it becomes a ubiquitous part of the persona. You can bet he “Yes mams” and “No mams” his elders. This is one of those characters that has to be able to exist outside the scene. You have to improv with him. And take him out in public. Embarrassing? Yeah probably. But take him shopping and buy something he’d ware. Talk to strangers with that accent. What animal is he? Who does he remind you of? How does he sit, stand, hold his hands or walk that’s different than you? Talk to his Mom, Dad, shrink. Do his high school graduation speech or practice the eulogy he hopes he’ll get. Act like the child he was. Find his shoes, personal hygiene habits, bedtime routines. Do household chores as he’d do them. Is he a clean freak or a mess. Spend time as your character. Listen to and practice that southern accent. These are old fashioned theater exercises. When you’re building a character that is so different than you…. You have to work on him. Luckily our work is play. Play with him, These exercises are structured play. They’re really just improv exercises. You’re getting closer and closer to him but the only way you can really learn to be at ease in his body is to spend time as him outside of the path of the scene. Now I see him in moments, flashes of him… even some of his micro expressions. He’s like a new suit. You just have to wear him to get comfortable. Play ! If you can stand it…. bring him in again next week.

H3>Andy…

There’s your comic. Brilliant. And as we said last night… just a little tweak and he’s the smart aleck at the office or guy who owns the liquor store or the detective or any number of characters who have a sarcastic biting humor. Sense of humor is such a foundational element of character. Now for a small note. You did an explosive “bingo” moment… I’ve seen that instinct in earlier scenes, and I just don’t think it works. Maybe it’s a volume vs intensity issue or sarcasm vs size? But it’s a moment that you need to adapt to the camera. I don’t want you to eliminate that moment or the urge to do it because it comes from deep in your comic instincts, but when next you encounter that impulse find a different expression for it… a different choice. Last night was just good work. Unlike Casey… the rest of us saw him clearly and distinctly. You made us laugh. Proof positive you found you comic.

Alex…

What fun. What a whacky character. Your talent makes that look easy. And unlike my advice to Martin… don’t take her out in public…. you might get arrested. I don’t know if she’s smart or dumb or some kind of savant but she’s sure ‘out there.’ She has the feel of an improv character but somehow she feels more fleshed out and real. This size character is usually associated with sitcoms and stylized writing but I think she could also compress into a more realistic episodic style if you were careful. I don’t think it’s enough to just do this character and accept the plaudits and move on. I’d hope you have some file that you can stash her in so the next time you see an appropriate scene you can whip her out and drop her into the scene. You took the better liar adjustment quite easily and I think it made the scene a little better. Generally we want to be the best liar we can. But the last takes you were listening better and we could see it affecting you as the character. Just delightful work.

Dana…

Great process. You came in full of ideas and doubt and pulled together a believable watchable character. This seems to be your MO… which is fine. But… Be aware that all the doubts and hesitancy you have are just your talent working out the problems of the scene. It’s a preparation stage that you’re passing through instead of a deep hole of despair and confusion. Easier said than done… but the more you understand your talent the easier it will be. When you have a scene like this that is so full of listening… you must listen in character and allow us to see her thoughts…. which you did beautifully. Remember the big three… WhoWhatWhere? It seems you’re concentrating on Where and What… the research… the era… the costume… but not enough on Who she is. As you research you need to be building character too. This girl is a big stretch… a big leap… and the net WILL APPEAR ! commit yourself to building character. Listen to your talent whispering.

Katherine…

Lovely work/ Lovely character. She’s one for you to remember. I decided the unidentified accent was because she was from Belize or Tierra del Fuego but raised in Kenya. There is just an international accent that we all accept in this world without borders and this was a perfect example. The adjustment that you made was stunning. Perhaps this too is a fulcrum event. It changed the whole nature of the scene. You upped the stakes just by concentrating on a prop(the ipod with the music) that we never saw. But you made us see it and believe it and it changed the whole scene. It was for me a question of “Knowing where your body was”… in relation to an incredibly important object. When you gave the Ipod its proper significance the whole tone of the scene changed. She just bounced through the scene between hope and despair. Your listening was wonderful. It was a great example of last weeks theme…. “Don’t do the scene. Let the scene do you.” The best work we’ve seen you do.

Here’s some character exercises….

Come up with an improvisation of other moments in the character’s life or his/her relationships.

  • Talk to yourself as the character.
  • Take your character out in public.
  • Go shopping in character and buy a piece of clothing for your character.
  • Do him/her as a child.

What are they like when they’re drunk? Call your character and leave a message or make impulsive phone calls to other characters. Do activities and work on your scene as a monologue…. wash dishes, vacuum, cleaning are all great business activities as you memorize and learn the scene.

JUST FIND WAYS TO SPEND TIME AS YOUR CHARACTER.

  • What animal is your character?
  • Who does he/she remind you of?
  • How does he/she walk, hold/use their hands, stand, or sit that is different than you do?

What should interest you are the things that are different. BE SPECIFIC. Talk to your character’s Mom, Dad, Shrink. Do private moments like your high school graduation speech, eulogy, or act as your child or oldster. Find your character’s shoes, personal hygiene habits, bedtime routines. SPEND TIME AS YOUR CHARACTER!

My favorite was always going shopping in character and finding his taste in clothes and then wearing that wardrobe. Nothing expensive. Mostly stuff from my closet. I always liked finding his shoes and would wear them as I worked on the scene. But all these were the exercises/process that worked for me. Find your own way of playing and use it.