www.whyville.net Feb 27, 2011 Weekly Issue

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The Actor's Handbook: Character Analysis

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The cast list for your spring musical was just posted today. Maybe you got the lead role you've been dreaming of getting, or maybe to your dismay, you were cast as "Bystander #2". Just because you got cast as the lowly bystander on the street, does that mean you're going to stand on stage scowling, staring enviously at the girl who got your beloved part? Well you certainly shouldn't.

Every part, no matter how minuscule, is vital to the show. That bystander #2 has a story. He or she has a life, kids, political views, religious background, a job, and everything the lead role has. There's a reason he says, "Keep it down you crazy kids!" He moves the show along and, more obviously, the lead role does too. So whether you were cast as a Dorothy or a little munchkin, here are some tips to help you be the best actor/actress you can be.

1. Every Character Has a Story

That munchkin's life in "The Wizard of Oz" consisted of much more than telling Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road, and then disappearing from existence. Just as Dorothy's life didn't begin and end with her trip to Oz. To get a proper feel for your character you've got to know him inside and out. Take what you're given in the script and expand upon it. Ask yourself some questions about your character.

What was your character doing before this scene?
Does your character have a family?
What is his occupation and economic status?
What was his childhood like?
What are his fears and worries?
What are his dreams and ambitions?

You can ask yourself these questions to create your character and give it some life.

2. Observe the World Around You

You may be asking yourself, "What is this going to do for me as an actor?" Well, this will help you and your character to become more human and not just an acting robot. For example, you're required to trip and then tie your shoe. Simple right? Maybe so, but in reality, one wouldn't just trip and then proceed to tie their shoelace one right on top of the other. If you've ever watched somebody trip in real life, you'll notice the first thing almost everyone will do is look around to see if somebody saw him. Natural human reaction.

Another example would be someone walking down the hall to class who forgot to bring something. One who has forgotten something wouldn't simply turn around right where he is and then proceed to walk in the other direction. That would look odd, and no one wants to look odd. Most people will make some little hand gesture, possibly bring their hand to their forehead or snap their fingers. You give signals to others to let them know WHY you're going back. Every behavior has a motive behind it.

So, create your scene with what you've been given.

Say you've just tripped over your untied shoelace. Look around to see if anybody saw you. Proceed to get up, maybe rub your knee. Then look for the cause of your trip, see your untied shoelace, and then get down to tie it. Simple things such as these give your character a more realistic human quality.

So try watching others (and even yourself) for a week, and see what little quirks and mannerisms are normal for human behavior.

3. Adjust Your Physical Levels

This is in an important part of acting. Depending on the age of your person, their physical health, or their current emotional state they will differ in physical expressions. Their energy levels, posture, and their quality, volume and tempo of voice will all vary. For example, if your character is upset they may be slouched over, have slower movements, and have a lower and possibly cracked voice.

Another thing to look for is hand gestures that coordinate with the age of your character. If you observe an older person and a young child (back to number 2!) then you'll know that the gestures of an elderly person and a child are very different.

Say a child and an old man were at a parade, and they both point to a particular float. The child will be be much quicker to react, with a fully extended finger. On the other hand, the elderly man wouldn't shoot his finger out in an instant. Rather, he may slowly extend his arm, with a bent, slightly shaking finger from a possible case of arthritis.

Energy levels should be kept in mind for all types of characters. You can usually figure out how energetic your character should be by using the method in suggestion #1.

These are a few tips to really embody your character and bring it to life. Just remember that no matter how small or large your role is, everyone is important to bring a show together. So follow these tips and be the best bystander #2 you can be!



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