Creating a Character

Create a backstory, build from stock gestures or simply have confidence! Three actors and two directors share the secrets of their trade.

To someone just starting out into acting my advice would be to relax. Try and relax! For anyone watching you to suspend their belief and see you as something or someone that you are not, you need to be completely comfortable in your role. You need to make it look like saying and doing those things are the most natural things in the world, because obviously that’s how it is for your character. For me, that means going through lines out loud continually, until they begin to feel familiar in your mouth, so the rhythm sounds right in your head. Effectively make the transition from them to you as smooth and as well-travelled as possible. So when it comes to opening night, you’re waiting behind the curtain and feel like you may vomit quite suddenly and dramatically, you can comfort yourself in the knowledge that you are about to do something that you’ve done hundreds of times before, about to become someone whose words and gestures are so familiar to you. Give your character little habits that you do when you are playing them. It sounds stupid, but think about how they sit, how they walk, so that you can use that posture to remind yourself that you are, in fact, being someone else and not you. So sometimes it’s helpful to let yourself completely become that person, do those little things that they do differently to you, and just live out the scenes as they would. Get to the stage when you don’t even need to think about the next line, relax, remember to breathe and you will be just fine! 

I think, especially having recently sat on an audition panel, that it’s important to remember auditions aren’t going to be perfect. It’s important to remember that directors may have a specific style in mind for a part too. If you’re redirected, don’t panic, just try your best to take on board what’s been said – it’s most likely you just interpreted it slightly differently to how the director saw it. I like to try to get into the mindset of parts – each scene in Punk Rock had a specific song before it, so I made a playlist of them on my phone and listened to it a lot before auditions and around the show. The foremost bit of advice would be to audition for anything and everything that interests you. Regardless of whether or not you think you have a good chance, every audition is a really valuable experience, and they can all be different. Don’t be afraid or upset by taking on or being offered smaller or different roles to what you auditioned for either, my first DST role was a minor part in A Servant To Two Masters and it was great to meet more experienced people in DST and just to get some performing experience. Alexander Marshal

I think forming a backstory is crucial if you want to create a more nuanced and layered production – not necessarily the classic ‘what did your character have for breakfast this morning?’, but asking yourself a few pertinent questions about what led your character to this point in their lives. Most plays are only a tiny snapshot into some pivotal events. If you take a particularly emotional piece, the characters haven’t been operating on full-throttle forever – there have been peaks and troughs in their relationships with each other which have all inexorably pushed them towards the emotional explosion that the audience witnesses. Personally, I always want my characters to feel as realistic as possible, so the first time I read a script I try to pick up on anything I share with a character, personality-wise. Even if you don’t like a character, trying to understand them and their motivations is key. 

When auditioning, possessing knowledge of the context beforehand is useful. Get a grasp of the synopsis so you know where your character fits into the general play. Although often you won’t know the piece until you get there, researching the play and its parts can be a great advantage. In auditions for a musical, keep acting throughout the song. Standing still singing will only impress the musical director, but adding in subtle actions, gestures as well as characterisation will impress the whole production team. Going through each line of the extract and thinking exactly what the character is thinking or feeling at this point is a great technique many actors use to give depth to their audition as well as being as engaging as possible. Also, don’t be put off if you are struggling to be cast! Getting casting rejections can be really tough, but it is something even the top actors in Hollywood constantly face. Believe me when I say, the production team want you to do well. If you want feedback from them, they would normally be more than happy to let you know what you could work on for future auditions. 

The first thing I say to my cast, at least when I’m doing a more non-naturalistic piece of theatre, is that they have to completely discard any preconceptions they may have about how to play a character. It starts with an inversion of the norm. Movement and action lead to character and emotion, not the other way around. Subtlety and nuance should also be discarded in favour of energy and ‘gestus.’ I like to start the rehearsal processes with exercises in movement: how does your character walk? How do they move? Why do they move like that? You can then start to build up a repertoire of stock gestures for your character to adopt in order to convey certain moods. The actor more than anything, must be confident in what they do and place a lot of trust in the director. This may sound crude, and of course it would be if you’re doing something like Chekhov (not to mention sickeningly wrong), but it’s pivotal to the success of my aesthetic to turn what we consider ‘character’ on its head. 


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