Playing A Character Outside Your CharacterBy Ty Unglebower • Jul 7th, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice
When acting, one must try at all times to not “break character.” That is to say we must never reveal our actual selves in full to the audience while we are on stage. It is a common problem with people who are new to acting. (As well as those who are not new, but are not worried about being any good at it.)
Less is said about its cousin; a corollary problem that is just as common, and just as stifling to the evolution of one’s craft. I call it “self interference.”
Self interference is when something about who we are as people interferes with our ability to give our best to a role. Examples include opting not to use swear words when in character, because you don’t actually use them; a teetotaler refusing to perform the illusion that he is consuming alcohol; someone refusing to kiss another actor because they are “committed only to kissing my spouse for life;” Christians who refuse to portray characters of another faith in the midst of worship.
The list goes on and on. As a person, to an extent I admire the convictions of such people. But as an actor I think it is more than a little cowardly.
True, I advocate always being aware while on stage that one is an actor. I am against losing all consciousness of self when on stage, as that invites a loss of control over the performance. But to have such obstinate awareness of one’s regular life that any character one portrays must conform to certain standards, (even if an alteration of the script is required) shows little commitment to the art of acting, and little respect for others involved.
With intense research I suppose one could find plays that contain only characters that did not behave in ways that conflicted with one’s morals. But just how deep into the art of creating a story can one get if one is merely playing characters that remind one of himself? There is a little bit of Ty in every role I take on, but if all my characters thought exactly as Ty does, I’d have never played anything.
Every actor has a range of course. They have types of characters or plays they can or cannot do. Or they simply have preferences. I respect that. I share that. But if an actor’s range is dictated not by his talent, but is in fact limited to characters and plays that only portray things with which he personally agrees, his chances to act are going to be very limited.
Theatre is story telling. It is a mirror held up to the human experience, and the human experience, as any adult can tell you, is not made up exclusively of those who will behave as we would. So if we wish to truly become master at the craft of acting, we must be willing to portray acts, while in character, that we ourselves would not commit. This means portraying drunkenness even if you never drink. It means being willing to kiss other actors on the mouth even if you are married. It means being willing to enact a staged murder. (Though oddly enough, many of the people I have worked with that object to portraying other acts on stage don’t generally shun the idea of pretending to kill someone…)
It is a role. It is acting. It is bringing to life, through your talents, a character whose skeleton was written by the playwright. You are no more abandoning your religion or being a “slut” by doing so on stage than you are legally changing your name to your character’s name when performing. Therefore commit to everything there is about a character, and in so doing commit totally to a performance, regardless. That is the mark of a professional.
If you can’t do it, please don’t ask directors or other actors to compensate for it. Respect the craft enough to steer clear of those roles that require actions you personally find problematic. But don’t expect to evolve much as an actor if you do so.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.