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My One Man Show adventures continue! In my last article I gave some pointers about how to successfully find your way through the logistics and analytical approaches when you’re balancing being the inside and outside eye to your performance. I’d now like to offer some more pointers geared towards character development. These can be used in large productions, but it is certainly more effective for small-scale stuff. I say this now because although I’m a week from going up, I’m not afraid with having three hours of rehearsal time away from the text. I know, crazy right?
If I told you that my clown performance was inspired by Wagner, you’d probably laugh at me in confusion. Well, go ahead: Wagner inspires my performance. In fact, all classical music is a rich fountain of inspiration when it comes to theatre. I listen out for the way Wagner structures his Ride Of The Valkyries, the way the notes bounce along with power and purpose. I listen for the beats and rhythms and, by using a whiteboard and a marker, track the beat – which when complete looks a bit like a heart monitor readout. Using this method it can then be applied to a performance. Track its highs and lows in the plot by using peaks and troughs, and then the pace of the performance with how close the peaks and troughs are to each other. This, when cross-referenced with your performance and the script can be a great indication of areas that need working on.
Music aside, the well-known method of asking questions about your character is a tried and tested way of deepening character understanding. But your choice of questioning is vital to making a success of this exercise. I like to split my whiteboard into three sections: ‘What I know about my character’, ‘What I don’t know about my character’ and ‘What I’ve discovered about my character’. Just by listing things you do know will be a clear sign of how far into the character development process you are. Admitting what you don’t know gives a line of enquiry and the discovery section is a great way of showing the progress made in that rehearsal.
For example, one question of mine was ‘What is the purpose of my character?’ I noted down ‘To cause trouble’ and from there mind-mapped all the various ways of causing trouble: Lying, defying convention etc. This in turn led to numerous activities exploring how to cause trouble; from there slotting it into my character was easy.
My lesson for today, quite simply is to not worry about the length of the rehearsal period. As long as the schedule is organised, you need not be afraid to spend a session on character development that may hardly touch the script. After clarifying certain traits and aspects of your character through off text activities, you’d be amazed how these sneak into your performance without you noticing it.