This scene was brought to you by the letter “U.”
Last week, SCIT welcomed actor, improviser and artist Arthur Simone of Coldtowne Theater in Austin, TX to the stage for a workshop on “character.” Simone took us through different exercises on discovering a character, emoting that character, and informing that character in a scene.
At the beginning of a scene, Simone explained, there is a moment of creation where you feel out a character. Until you determine a character, the audience will forgive you for any “experimenting” you do; but once you establish that character, it’s your responsibility to stay true to it in the context of the scene. Just because your character is a bank robber doesn’t mean he should rob the coffee shop that the scene takes place in. Instead, maybe your character is hyper-vigilant; maybe he asks questions about how many people work there or is nervous about the wad of stolen cash in his pocket. How would a thief act in a meeting with his boss, or while running storytime at the local library? I have the tendency to take characters from 0 to 60 (i.e. crazytown) in moments, but Simone explained that sometimes, the potential for anger (or another emotion) in a scene is so much more interesting to watch.
After warming up, we started off with an exercise where everyone was onstage walking around as ourselves. We observed our walks, what part of our body leads when we walk, how our arms swing, etc. Then we chose a different body part to lead with. We played with dialing up and playing down this character’s walk from a “10,” being the most cartoonish we could be, down to a “1,” where nobody but us would notice the difference between this character and us. For me, playing a character at a “1” was challenging, as I normally don’t play someone that close to myself in a scene. I think I would feel more awkward playing that than I would a character that is the polar opposite of me.
I had the most fun during the next exercise, where we individually went onstage and Simone gave us a letter of the alphabet. We explored the stage and that letter, repeating it over and over again, playing with inflection, volume, sound and quality. Once we got to a point where we weren’t just saying the letter, but feeling where in our bodies that letter was coming from, we improvised a monologue and went into a scene based on that monologue. My letter was “V.” I can’t really explain it, but I ended up in a state of frazzled frustration and delivered a monologue about how I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner every year, and nobody appreciates all of the work and planning I put into that meal. Simone called another person up to the stage and placed our scene in a confessional, with me as the priest. I still felt the emotion I had during the monologue, but I had to keep that in-check. It was so interesting to see how a letter, a sound, could evolve from a noise into a character. SO COOL. Simone suggested if you’re in a scene to just start with a syllable or a sound of a word and take it from there to discover your character, and, ultimately that character’s place in the scene.
What I really learned was that it’s not always about the bold character choices in a scene, but rather, it’s about that character in the context of that scene. The team I’m a part of just started doing Harold form, so I have a lot more time to explore a character now. I’m looking forward to playing with what I’ve learned in practice and onstage in the upcoming weeks.