I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end. Drew Barrymore
It isn’t just enough to decide that you are a “guy in love” or a “girl who just landed her dream job”. It doesn’t give enough information for our brain to lock onto and connect with. Practically for a performer, it just results in a performer going through really general, stereotypical stock gestures that are bland and lack authenticity. These kinds of characters don’t engage an audience because they just aren’t real or human enough. We have to make the WWWWW specific and emotionally potent.
Making it specific
To create something exceptional, your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail. Giorgio Armani
Start making it specific by answering these questions as your character.
What are the details that make this WWWWW unique? What makes the WWWWW relate-able? Imagine your scene as if it is a silent movie you had to narrate for a blind person what would you say? How would you describe this scene to a friend?
Making it emotionally potent
The definition of a musical is that the emotion is so strong that you can’t talk anymore, you have to sing. The emotion isn’t strong enough when you’re just like, ‘Let’s take a second to sing about lamps!’ Rachel Bloom
Start making it specific by answering these questions as your character.
Why should I care about this character?
What emotions do I want the audience to associate with this character?
What would the WWWWW need to be for me as the character to feel that way the music and text seems to call for?
What are emotional triggers for everyday me? Not just negative triggers and not just one sensory input. Go through each emotion and all five senses to start building a bank of triggers you can use that ring true to you.
Art is beauty, the perpetual invention of detail, the choice of words, the exquisite care of execution. Theophile Gautier
- Focusing on just facts and ignoring what those facts mean to your character. Don’t just describe or fixate on facts. Describe and explore as a human and not just a machine. Remember we are past information gathering and into decision making at this point.
- Being too literal or accurate to your character’s world when it doesn’t matter. Most of what you will decide about your context will never be completely known to the audience. If I am supposed to get excited about something happening you might not know if I am thinking about a chocolate cake, a hamburger, a lover who I haven’t seen in 2 years, or a million-dollar check. If you can’t connect with what your character is supposed to feel about a certain object in a certain moment replace it with something that would get you to feel that way. This technique is called substitution.
- Not tapping into your own experiences and reaction. Take time to relate to your character. You don’t necessarily have to substitution to connect with your character. Sometimes you just need to identify a similar situation that happened to you in your life. Have a “conversation” with your character where you respond “That makes me remember a time when….” then complete the story.
- Jumping straight to emotion without identifying what triggers that emotion in your character’s world. Trying to get yourself to feel and express emotion without understanding what got your character to feel those emotions will leave it feeling empty or not quite authentic to the audience. It will also make it harder for you to remember what you are supposed to do. Instead, if you take the time to think through what your character saw, thought, heard, smelled, or touched that made them feel a certain way it will help it read as more authentic and it will help you in the performance itself consistently connect to emotional triggers you have planted in the character’s world that let you get from point A to point B in that characters emotional world.
- Speaking as a third party. Speak and think from your characters point of view. Don’t tell me what your character would say or describe what is going on. Just say what your character would say and respond in the way your character would respond.
Individual : Really Seeing and Object
How to do this exercise: Choose any inanimate object and either by speaking out loud or on paper continue to describe this object for 5 minutes without allowing yourself to stop to think or pause. It must be continuous. Don’t stop to think if you are right or wrong or if what you are saying is fact or fiction. Just keep talking to describe this object as completely as possible.
Individual: How you are feeling?
How to do this exercise: As you (as opposed to like your character) either speak out loud or write on paper a description of how you feel for 2 minutes minimum without allowing yourself to stop to think or pause. It must be continuous. Don’t stop to think if you are right or wrong or if what you are saying is fact or fiction. Just keep talking to describe this emotion as completely as possible. Please be careful to not mislabel thoughts or observations as emotions. For example, “I feel that you are mad at me.” is a thought and not an emotion. Maybe you feel hurt because you think they are mad at you because you observed them not making eye contact with you and observed them start talking in a louder more aggressive manner. Stick with describing your own emotions.
Individual: I am the speaker for the dead
How to do this exercise: Repeat the “how are you feeling?” exercise but as if you are speaking for someone around you, a fictional character, or someone dead.
Group: Make me care about a mundane object.
How to do this exercise: Whoever is “it” will be given a mundane object by the class with the single objective of making the group care about this object.
Group: Live Subtitles
How to do this exercise: This is an improv game where you set the context of a scene where the “characters” are speaking in a foreign language of the classes choosing (said language does not need to be real). Other members of the class are assigned to be the live translators of the scene playing out. It works best if there is one translator assigned per “character” in the scene. Translators should not fall into the trap of describing what is said. They must give what the audience would perceive as a direct translation.
Group: Re-live a moment when you had strong emotions. No words.
How to do this exercise: A person is selected from the group. That person must choose a moment where they had strong emotions. They must speak in real words in sentences in their mind describing this situation as much detail to themselves. Again, they are not talking, miming, or trying to communicate any of this to the people around them. They should also not try to hold back how they would respond if they were going through this thought process alone. Their goal is to relive that moment as if they were alone in a safe place trying to remember every detail possible. The class’s objective is to observe how the body responds to those thoughts. Suggestion: For round one or unless the class has built a strong relationship of trust and support it is best to start with a strong happy emotion.
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