Thu 24 Jul 2014
When playing a character onstage, it is essential that the actor take time to discover as much as possible about whom the character is. Character research for me usually begins with the following questions:
- Who does the playwright say this character is?
- Who does the character herself say she is, through her words or by her actions?
- Who do the other characters in the play say about her?
Once I’ve established these basic ideas, I move on to the question that will drive all of my character’s choices onstage: What does this character want? The answer to this can be very broad at first (love, money, freedom, control, etc.) but then needs to be narrowed to a precise and situation-specific goal. For example, one of my characters in Two Gents is Panthino, advisor and household manager to Antonio, a wealthy father living in Verona. What Panthino wants is for Antonio to send his son, Proteus, to Milan where he can be educated, make connections, and gain experience that will help him in the future.
Next, I think about the motivation. Why does this character want that specific thing? In this case, there are several options that would make sense. Perhaps Panthino wants Proteus gone out of jealousy; he wants Antonio to be focused more on managing the household affairs rather than his son. Or it could be because of pride; Panthino serves in the only house among Verona’s wealthy that hasn’t sent their son abroad to be educated, and this is embarrassing to Panthino in conversations between other household managers. Or is it because having observed Proteus from birth, Panthino genuinely cares about his well-being and is concerned he will miss out on these valuable opportunities? Any of these is a valid choice, provided it does not contradict any lines or anything else that takes place in the play. But it is crucial that the actor understands the character’s motivation so that the audience is able to understand it as well.
At this point, I can finally look at individual lines and actions of the character and choose a tactic or action for each of them. Each of these choices needs to be strong, precise, and a step towards achieving the character’s goal or desire. In Shakespeare’s plays, the structure of the lines can often help with these decisions. For example, if a character seems to be listing items, what is the purpose of the list? Is it to entice another character more and more as each example is laid out before them, or to warn them of the worsening perils of a choice they have made? Or is it because the first example did not have the desired effect on the other character, and more is needed in order to convince him or her? Whatever the reason, I need to fully utilize the lines to tell that part of the story.
The final thing I do is to think about the physicality of the character. What specific physical traits and idiosyncrasies does this character have? How does he or she move differently from me, and from other characters onstage? I consider how different types of physicality and movement might affect my character’s chances of achieving his or her goal, and try to make a choice that is unique and that will be interesting to the audience. One thing I am really enjoying about playing three different characters in 2 Gents is the fact that the physicality of each of them is quite different. Proper and straight-laced Panthino is very different from the scrappy Outlaw and athletic Eglamour. Hope you enjoy the show!