Lesson plan 1- Creating a Character

Creating a Character

Steven Rowbotham

During this hour long work shop I will be using techniques used by some of the most respected dramatists in order to help create and develop character. I will be asking my actors to both forget and remember aspects of themselves. Certain traits that the actor may have such as standing with their hands in their pockets or a twitching of the foot may not fit the character they are trying, however I will be asking them to remember moments of their pasts, to reconnect with emotions and use them in order to create a character. Students taking part in this workshop will benefit from learning techniques in helping them to create strong and truthful characters; I aim to give the participants a good starting point from which they can continue to explore and develop.

As Stanislavsky quotes in compilation book ‘An actors handbook p95- you must constantly be adding to your store, for this purpose you draw, principally on your own feeling, experiences and expressions. You also acquire materiel from the world around you, real and imaginary, from reminiscence, books, art, science, knowledge of all kinds, from journeys, museums and above all communication from other human beings. 

  1. Breathing and focus (15 minutes)
  2. In the shoes of your character (15 minutes)
  3. Reacting and Improvisation (15 minutes)
  4. Reflect and reconnect (15 minutes)

 

Warm up and Focus 10-15 Minutes

A warm up is often used to energise a performer, to get them motivated in mind and warm and nimble in body. However, I intend to start my work shop with a relaxation process known as ‘Breath centring’ (Creating a Character, Moni Yakim, P202) , I aim to put my students into a state of zero, or Total Relaxation so they can let go of any emotions of their own they might be feeling about their day, or what happened last night. I will ask them to feel the emotions of the character, what did you character eat for breakfast, Is he hungry, tired, drained, elated or devastated?

By starting with a breathing exercise the player will be able to comprehend within their mind they will understand the elements necessary to creating a character. (Stanislavsky, building a character, p5)

After introducing the students to the workshop and giving them a brief outline of what we are hoping to achieve I plan to spend between 10 and 15 minutes on a ‘warm up’ exercise. It is important to visualise these breath centres and cavities, like empty drums being filled with air, imagine your cavities like canal lochs, until you feel the oxygen pumped to every part of your body, breathing in should be through the nostrils and performed in a calm unhurried manor. This should be done whilst sat or laying in a comfortable and neutral position.

  1. First breath centre (abdominal), I will tell the class to inhale into the abdominal until it can no longer contain more air, hold the air for 5 seconds, and exhale until the cavity in empty of air.
  2. Second breath centre (chest). As before inhale to the abdominal cavity but continue until the breath is full of air, do not raise the shoulders, keep them relaxed as raised shoulders restrict the flow of air, allow your rib cage to fan out like the wings of a swan, hold for five seconds and the slowly exhale until both cavities are empty of air.
  3. Third breath centre (lower throat) Inhale through abdominal and chest as before but this time bring the air as far as the lower throat, hold for five seconds and then released the air slowly through until all cavities are empty of air.
  4. Fourth Breath Centre (upper throat) Inhale through abdominal, chest and lower throat, but this time continue into upper throat, hold for five, then release slowly feeling each cavity empty in turn.
  5. Fifth breath centre (sinus cavity between the eye browse) as previous inhale through each section but this time all the way to you sinus, whilst remembering to keep form, remembering to keep your body neutral, hold for five and then exhale through each
  6. Sixth breath centre (top of the cranium) repeat previous exorcizes and continue to the skull, hold for five, keep the form and exhale slowly.
  7. In one deep rapid inhalation flood all six cavities, hold for five seconds and exhale slowly.
  8. Rest to create a normal breathing pattern, allow you class to recover from any effects of light headedness, then Repeat this exercise

Whilst the exercise is being conducted I will not only be giving clear instructions on the  breathing techniques but also reminding them to consider their characters and begin to detach from themselves and assume the persona of the character that they are trying to build.

Once the exercise has been repeated twice I will ask my students to remain where they lay or sit and regress to a time that they have felt fear or ecstasy, a strong emotional experience that they can attach to this being  and draw upon to create truth within character.

Then I ask my students to regress to a time that they have felt fear or ecstasy, they can then use their own experiences and draw upon them to create a character.

Walking In the shoes of your character

‘In your own time slowly move into a standing position, remembering to breath, keep focused on what your character is feeling, what has just happened, what is about to happen’

Now I ask the students to become their character and I will add variables and elements such as warmth, sunshine, hustle and bustle; how would the character react to these elements, does he like the sunshine? What does it remind him of? Does it take the character back to a happy time, or a sad time? Then I will vary the situation, the room starts to turn cold, does your character wrap up, is he always prepared with a blanket in the boot of his car? It begins to rain, does he seek shelter or is the rain of no bother to him, maybe he wants to be cold, he could be punishing himself, darkness sets in do you seek comfort from another, or are you a solitary character? By finding these vulnerability’s you begin to add layers to your character, even if he hides them, if you are being truthful they will show, the audience will see it and be able to identify and connect with you.

Man is as strong as iron, as hard as stone and as fragile as a rose. Vulnerability is a quality that people try to conceal, yet it is a characteristic that truly allows and audience to connect with an actor  (Creating a Character Moni Yakim p14)

 

Reacting, improvisation and exploration

 

In this section of the work shop I will be creating scenarios for the students to take part in, asking the students to become their characters and provoking them to react naturally and truthfully. Improvisation can be crippling for actors as they search to create and entertain, in this exercise we will focus on truth, whether that be sad, funny, boaring or hilarious, the point is that it is real.

I will split the students into groups of five and place them in day to day scenarios and create conflict. For example, waiting on a train platform, a rail employee very politely comes to inform them that the train is five minutes delayed, 30 seconds later the employee returns, this time not being quite as polite as before to inform them the train will now be 10 minutes late, 30 seconds later the employee returns, it has now began to rain and the employee is being unpleasant and rude informs them the train will be half an hour late, he then demands to see their tickets or leave the platform. I will ask the actors to react as truly to this situation as possible, whilst reacting to each other, so if a girl was to cry, would one of the men comfort her?

Another scenario would be a women claiming to have been hit by her husband, she describes a violent and vicious man, will the characters simply want to beat on him, or will they ask questions, do they just take her word for it? Then we introduced the husband, who turns out to be a timid and gentle man, how does this change the situation and the way your character is feeling?

I will add several more scenarios to the work shop, some mundane and day to day, others more extreme and provocative, but hoping to achieve the outcome of truth.

Reflect and reconnect

 

This section is technically a cool down, but also a reflective period,  I will ask the students to sit or lay in a comfortable position, slowly start a breathing rhythm and phase out the other students, all the sounds and smells of the room and reconnect with the emotions of the character. I will ask them to think about what they have learned about their character today; and try to imprint these emotions on to the character you are creating, as Stanislavsky says the broader your emotional memory the richer your materiel for inner creativeness,‘(an actors hand book p56)and continue to build and consider how your character would react and feel to situations when your sat on a bus, or waiting in line at burger king, hold on to these feeling and emotions and keep them in your box, ready to be used when called upon.

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