Making and playing a character is one of the most exciting parts of acting training and being a part of a theatre school. One day, you’re a superhero whose mission is to save the world, and the next, you’re playing a wicked witch with a wonderfully scary laugh. There are countless ways to develop your character in theatre, but it can be difficult for an aspiring actor to know where to start. To give you some ideas, this post highlights some of the best ideas to improve your characterisation in drama.
1. Look for Clues in the Script
When you start making a character, your first step should be to read through your script in detail. The script will help you discover facts about your character, such as their name, age, where they live, and their relationships with other characters. Look out for what your character says about themselves and what they say about others. This will help you to understand their thoughts, feelings, and personality.
You should also think about the role your character plays in the story. Are they a hero or a villain? In storytelling, 12 archetypal characters commonly feature in literature, film or theatre. From the lover to the warrior, each character has its own strengths, weaknesses and characteristics that make them unique. Try to understand which of the 12 archetypes best fits your character and how you can lean into this.
2. Connect with Your Character
One of the best ways to develop your character is to try to connect with them. In a notebook, write down the information about the character you learned from the script, such as their backstory, age, personality, and beliefs. Then, see if you can relate to anything you’ve written down. For example, perhaps you are in the same school year as your character, or you have the same favourite food. Maybe you both have the same number of siblings or have similar morals and values. Thinking about this can make you feel more confident about portraying your character. If you went through a similar experience to that of your character, consider how you felt and how it affected you afterwards, and draw on that experience for inspiration.
3. Create a Character CV
Using the notes you made on the script, you can create a character CV similar to that used by people applying for a job. Use this format to write about your character’s history, strengths and weaknesses. There may well be information the script doesn’t provide, such as details of your character’s past, but this is a great opportunity to create these for yourself. Thinking creatively about your character and coming up with new details can help you to understand their thoughts, feelings, and personality.
It’s important to note that your character CV doesn’t need to remain the same throughout your acting project. You should feel free to make changes, remove details or add new information while rehearsing and learning more about the story.
4. Explore Using Props
Props can be a valuable tool for developing and portraying a character. Not only do they help you discover your character’s personality and background, but they can also help you get into the right mindset when the time comes to take to the stage. For example, where would Dorothy be without her ruby slippers and Toto? You don’t need to leave them to the side until opening night; utilising props during script-reading sessions, acting classes, and rehearsals can help you to get in and out of character quickly while acting.
5. Consider Character Traits
As human beings, we all have certain habits, little things we do that are just “us”. Your character will have these, too. Characterisation in drama is all about deciding on traits unique to your character. Ask yourself how they laugh, walk, sit, stand, eat, and sleep, and feel free to experiment. You should explore including whichever traits make the most sense to you and allow yourself to have fun playing your character.
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6. Think About Your Character’s “Why”
In every well-written story, each character has a “why”. This is their motivation for behaving the way they do or responding to their surroundings in a certain way. It also helps to explain the part they play in the story. When making your character, write down the reasons you think they might have for acting the way they do. What’s their end goal? What do they want to achieve by the end of the story and beyond? Your answers could be anything from finding fame and fortune to taking revenge on someone who hurt them.
Once you’ve decided what your character’s “why” is, use this to fuel your performance. It should always be in the back of your mind, helping you to stay true to the person you’re portraying and ensuring your responses to events are consistent and make sense to the audience.
7. Base Your Character on Someone You Know
Johnny Depp is famous for basing his characters on other famous people. For example, his portrayal of “Pirates of the Caribbean” hero Captain Jack Sparrow is heavily influenced by Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. This characterisation method can be a great way to build up your character’s traits and personality, especially if you’re struggling with generating ideas. If you find a celebrity particularly engaging or entertaining, perhaps you can incorporate their behaviours into your character. You could also base your character on a friend or family member who inspires you.
8. Set Some Obstacles
Every person experiences hardships in life, and your character is no different. Thinking about the obstacles they have faced in their life and challenges that could come up in the future could not only give you ideas about your character’s motivations, but also their beliefs and personality. Put yourself into your character’s shoes, and think about what obstacles they might have had to overcome previously.
If you’re struggling for ideas, try to find a well-known person who is similar to your character, and research their background. What struggles have they overcome? Let this knowledge inspire you.
9. Ask People around You
Sometimes, the best way to get feedback on a character is to ask others. It’s easy to overthink and make the character too complex, so seeking an outside opinion can be a great way to refresh your thinking. Sit down with a friend, family member or fellow actor and tell them what the script says about your character, and then ask what they think their main personality traits might be. They might propose a detail you hadn’t considered or lead to tackling your characterisation from a new perspective.
10. Develop Your Voice
Lastly, deciding on the character’s voice early can be a great way to build their personality. Depending on where the story takes place, they will have an accent; you can use videos and recordings of people from that location to learn the specific dialect and slang. In addition to this, make a note of the character’s age, as this will impact the way they speak. If you’re playing a comedic character, you can have lots of fun with the way they express the dialogue in the script. In contrast, if you’re playing a more serious or shy character, it might be more appropriate to adopt a more reserved way of speaking. The best approach is to experiment and see what works. Whatever you decide, consistency is key — ensure your speaking style is the same throughout the story.
Learn to Make a Character in Theatre
As you can see, you can use many different techniques to develop a character in drama. From choosing props to embracing their background, the possibilities are endless for making a character your own. It’s important to draw on various different characterisation methods, and you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment.
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