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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Building a Manbeast of a Character!

This summer, I will be playing "Caliban" in Gurnet Theatre Project's production of The Tempest. I've decided to take advantage of this opportunity and perform an experiment in character development.

In Chekhov's "To The Actor", he describes an approach to character development unlike many others. Often times, our approach to acting is focused on finding ourselves in our character, or finding pyschological links/similarities between ourselves and the character. Not to invalidate this approach, but how does one use this method when approaching a character like Caliban? I'm not so sure I can give a succesful personality based performance of a character described as a wild beast, insatiable and bombastic.

(Hey! I know what you're thinking... Don't you dare say it!)

Anywho, Chekhov has a very different approach. One of his most valuable innovations is an approach towards character building where you first visualize him or her, giving the image commands and tasks for perform in your head. You build this character up as a third party, but since it springs from your imagination and not your intellectualism, you're eventually able to step into the character and adopt physical traits and control you never would have otherwise been able to embody.

I've done this work before with a former teacher of mine, Janet Morrison. Many moons ago, I was studying the character of Menelaus from The Trojan Women. I'm not particularly warlike. I'm not a great epic, legendary hero. Practically speaking, I have very little in common pyschologically with Menelaus. Or so I thought.

Janet suggested that I use imagery to help me build a phsyical character for the purpose of establishing a stage atmosphere worthy of Menelaus. She gave me the image of a Judge. This image inspired and disciplined me to give, at that point, what I consider to have been my most radiating, powerful performance.

I don't consider myself a great actor. But that was the moment when I realized I could someday be a good one.

She once gave me great advice: She suggested that whenever I accepted a new role, to create my own image, repeat the process as needed, and to start a diary of these images. She even suggested I sketch them, if so inclined.

I have followed her general approach since. I don't always use Chekhov on my parts. Though I tend to feel the most strongly when I've found a strong image and/or gesture. But for Caliban, which might possibly be one of the most physically and pychologically exciting parts I've recieved in ages, I think I might take this all the way.

Therefore, my experiment will be to document my character building. With sketches, exercises and gesture. Needless to say, you'll be reading up on my findings as the summer approaches.

Alternatively, I could try drinking the water in Boston. They say it's safe again, but I'm kind of hoping the toxic waste might actually transform me into a horribly grotesque, saytr-like ManBeast!

And besides... drinking boiling water really hurts...

In for a rude awakening...
Some relevant links
(I've mentioned and plugged Scott before, but it's worth noting that Janet has studied with him and was the one who personally recommend him to me when he arrived in town. If you want to explore Chekhov and/or a Chekhov/Meisner approach, check him out!)

1 comment:

  1. I want to hear about your experiences. Keep me updated!