Theater Info for the Washington DC region

The Complete Character

By • Aug 3rd, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

It is easy to get caught up in a scene you are performing, and hence an entire play. If you are at all noble, you want the whole production to go well, and for the audience to have a special experience from start to finish whether or not you are on stage. I feel this way.

But it is important to remember that when you are performing, your character is only ever within his own mind, when on the stage. That isn’t to say that your character is unaware of everything else, or that they never care about other characters and their outcomes. It simply means that the best way to serve the play as a whole, is to worry less about the arc of the narrative, and concentrate instead on what you specific purpose is every time you enter and exit the stage.

A play is but a microcosm of a larger universe. It is designed by the playwright to be that way, and to that end certain concessions must be made in terms of timing, reality, and scope of action. Yet still with any play worth its salt, it is clear that there is far more going on outside of the stage action than there is on it. Antecedent action. Unseen characters. The thoughts and motivations of the characters we do see. No one scene encapsulates every atom. Neither does any given character.

What this means is that an actor must remember all of this when he plays a character. How has his character been affected by his past, the world around him, the thoughts in his head, the love in his heart? It is these things that inform a personhood. It is these things that must be considered, more so than how one character’s actions and lines fit into an entire plot.

You job as an actor is to present a person, not an action or a plot device. When we as actors try to present a purpose for being in a play, the result is stagey, wooden acting. But if we present to the audience one limited, flawed person who nonetheless is far more than the sum total of what happens to him in the script, we keep alive the notion that the play is just a slice of life to which the audience is a temporary guest. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be closure to the story, or a climax or denouement or any of that sort of thing. All of those things must certainly be present for a script to sing. But if they are not, it isn’t your fault as the actor. It’s the playwright’s. Be true to presenting a person only, and if the script is sound, the plot will take care of itself.

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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 (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

One Response »

  1. Mind if I borrow this for my actors in an upcoming production? It really sums up the process of the actors/character on stage.

    I tend to use the Five Questions of a character?
    Where was I before I entered the stage?
    What was I doing before I entered the stage?
    Why am I on the stage?
    Where am I going when I leave the stage?
    What am I going to do when I leave the stage?