Arthur Simone Character Workshop Recap

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.

-Kat Caringola

Take Five with Arthur Simone

Arthur Simone is an artist, actor and co-founder of ColdTowne Theater in Austin, TX.  A graduate of Oberlin College, he has studied improv at Chicago’s Improv Olympic and has appeared on-screen in Days of Delusion, Jigsaw, The Evil One, A&E’s Faith of My Fathers, Big Momma’s House 2, and has been featured on the series Friday Night Lights. He was recently named Best Actor by the Austin Chronicle for his performance in his one-man show, Dear Frailty.

 Next Thursday, Steel City Improv Theater welcomes Arthur Simone to the stage for a workshop on character. Get to know him a little better, as he takes five of our questions:

Tell us about your first improv experience. What inspired you to start?

I had seen improv before, but had written it off as goofball “low art,”
devoting myself instead to pursuing a super expensive degree in
theatre. I put it to use stage and film acting in Chicago before
taking a suggestion from my agent and trying classes at Improv
Olympic, where I discovered “everyday” performers making amazing
truthful in-the-moment choices that trumped anything I had ever seen.
I still value my college degree and it gives me great insight into
emotion and characters, but boy, do I wish I had gotten into improv
earlier!

You wear many hats, creatively—acting, improv, art and even air guitar—is there anything you haven’t done that you would like to do?

I never want to choose the One Thing I’m good at, so I guess that
means I’ll be flitting about in perpetual anxiety about where my next
paycheck is coming from for some time yet… I generally work in one
discipline until I feel I’m beating my head against the wall, then
drop it entirely to delve into something else that recharges my
batteries. In the immediate future, I’d like to try my hand at working
behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Who/where do you think are some current improv innovators (people, troupes, companies, cities)?

Austin is a great melting pot of styles and allows for lots of stage
time and cross-pollination. I’m not a huge fan of the
industry-obsessed landscape of Los Angeles, New York or Chicago, but
you will find some pretty amazing and elite talent to watch if you’re
looking for inspiration. TJ & Dave, 3303, Dasariski and Death by Roo
Roo have all at one point blown my mind all over the floor.

What are some of your favorite improv resources?

While I don’t really read many books on improv, I do love books on
theatre’s place in culture, like Antonin Artaud, Peter Brook and Jerzy
Grotowski. Humans are fundamentally social animals, so there’s a great
deal of insight to be found in nature documentaries as well, I watch
them obsessively.

Your workshop focuses on character. What do you hope the main takeaway will be?

A character is more than just a silly accent or even a deeper
motivation, it’s a unique skin into which the actor can step to see
and experience a world. Realistic and absurd characters alike can be
deep wells of material, and there’s no feeling quite like bringing one
to life.

Author’s Note: We’re hoping to make this a regular column, so you can get to know our instructors, frequent players and guests a little better. If there’s someone you think we should “take five” with, let us know!  -Kat