Theater Info for the Washington DC region

When To Be In Character

By • Aug 17th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I am not one of those actors that is in character the entire time I am in the theatre. I have known some of them, and to each his own, but I find that sort of intensity to be somewhat off putting. If I am sitting in the green room with another 20 minutes before my next scene, I don’t want everyone around me to have to remember to address me as they would my character. I don’t think it’s fair to them.

More common than this meta-performance, however, is what I call “bookending” your character while on stage. That is to say many actors, especially when they are starting out, tend to be out of character the first few moments they enter the stage, and tend to slip out of it again as they are exiting the stage. Doing this makes for a performance that screams either “amateur” or “lazy.”

You shouldn’t require a big entrance on a line to get you into character, because it shouldn’t be the line and your entrance that puts your into character. While you may have been yourself in the green room, or even during the short walk from the green room to the backstage area, you need to give yourself enough time in character before you enter. If you step on to stage and then throw the switch, the whole audience is going to hear the “click” when you do so.

The same is true at the end of a scene for an actor. I dare say in fact that the problem is even more prevalent as one is exiting than it is when one is entering. At least with entering there is a small jolt of anticipation. Depending on the actor and how well the scene went, your thoughts may slip towards, “I can’t wait to get off of this stage,” at the end of a scene. This also throws a switch that audience members can notice. I am sure you have seen a show where you can actually see the actor sigh, smile, or shake his head inappropriately as he makes his way for the exit. If this jarred you there is a reason. It wasn’t an acting choice. It was the actor breaking character right in front of you, albeit for three seconds.

Establish the precedent of starting your performance in the wings, and not ending it until you are clear of the backstage area. (if you have some down time.) That way you won’t get used to being off just before you enter, or to shutting off just before you exit.

Both can be accomplished by extending the story a bit in your mind. If you are waiting to enter, where was your character just before the scene? What was he doing? How was he feeling? When you exit, to where are you exiting? Make the green room or dressing room into whatever your character’s next immediate destination is supposed to be. Anticipate or fear it accordingly so the whole stage plus some is your performance space.

Know your scenes and your character well enough to be able to answer these questions, and the only time you will be seen out of character is during your curtain call, in the midst of appreciative applause.

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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.

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