Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Developing Characters

Last night's theater group work for the play was to work on character development. As I've mentioned, I tend to think of dramatic characters in terms of when they're on stage, or being talked about; when they're offstage, they don't really exist except as waiting in the wings to come back on for what's important.

But actors, or maybe students actors, or probably actors in our time and place, are taught to think about character development in ways that are at least partly about offstage lives. That's really alien to me. But, I'm in this project to learn as much as to teach, so I'm going with what the director wants.

The director had given each student a sheet asking him/her to fill in questions about his/her character, so they brought in the sheets. Then, since s/he was going to be gone last night, the director had the assistant start off the students with an exercise, asking each student to write a one word description for each character.

I then took over leading the discussion we had of characters. We worked backwards (in part because the end of the line is usually rushed, and the students playing characters at the end of the list tend not to get as much attention because they're playing spear-carriers, basically, so by turning that around, I could make sure to give those students help with their characters. Assuming those students are more likely to be less experienced actors, they're also more likely to need help. And the script gives them less help.)

Well, let me say, it was fascinating and stimulating. One of the friends of a main character roles we talked about in terms of development and friendship. In Shakespeare's comedies, he often has characters who are moving from homosocial friendships into heterosexual marital relationships; while lots and lots of people make this transition in real life, so it's easily recognizable, it's also a difficult transition. We move from having our kid friends to seeing those kid friends choose a more "partner" type relationship (or many, or whatever), and since we move at different speeds, sometimes one or another is ahead or feels left behind. So we explored where the friend character might be in the relationship, and how to represent that in acting the part. Challenging and exciting for me to think about how to enact relationships that way, but also important to staging the play.

I was repeatedly impressed by different students' insights, especially into other roles. They've clearly been thinking about the play, what happens and how, and they're learning a lot of cool Shakespeare in the process ("cool Shakespeare" is like the "department of redundancy department" from me, I suppose). I especially enjoy when a student who's been sort of on the sidelines for whatever reason comes up with good ideas that show s/he's been thinking and paying closer attention than I'd realized.

All in all, this has been a great experience for me so far; I'll be participating less directly for the next several weeks; I'll try to make it to a rehearsal or two, but mostly, my work here is done. Time-wise, I really need my 8-10 extra hours a week back, but I'll also miss the fun of working with these students in a new way (for me, anyway).

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