“Don’t think everything you do has to be funny… All you need to do is be interesting. Be specific. And if you need to be quiet for awhile, that’s fine.”
— Jason Mantzoukas
by: Aaron Merrill
Taking on another persona is daunting. Personally, it’s the thing I find hardest on stage. Here are tips and techniques from seasoned DC improvisors on assuming a real, believable, and hilarious character.
Stop listening to headphones on the metro. You should be eavesdropping on conversations. Learn other’s points of view, and understand their character and motivation for their conversations. (Megan Cummings)
Justify and Backfill
Kill two birds with one stone. Justify and let that help you discover more things about your character. Make a move, then ask why. Then why again, and again, and again.
“I’m not a fan of small plates. [why] I just don’t like to share my food. [why] Growing up in a family of four kids, you had to eat fast if you wanted seconds of the good thing, or you’d be stuck eating more of the bad thing, which was always broccoli. [now I’m a character with food issues from childhood] Then you play out the “if this is true, what else is true” scenarios. I might hoard food. Maybe I treat everything like a Hunger Games competition. Or I’m constantly eating off other people’s plates. (Kate Symes)
As your scene partner, what I need from your character is their emotional point of view. How can I emotionally affect you? That core emotional view and response is what connects our characters. Make a clear emotional choice and feel something about what’s going on, justify it, and let’s play with that! (John Windmueller)
Whenever I’m struggling with character, I return to an opening called The Sleepover. You get your suggestion, and then come up with a one-line statement of some kind inspired by the word. The statement is the entry point to your character. I imagine my character saying thismotivating line to himself in the mirror as he brushes his teeth. From there, you simply play “If this is true, then what else is true?”
It’s easy to play on the back line during a show. If the line I come up with is “I just love monster trucks”, I can walk into a scene and interact with the characters and world as someone whose love of monster trucks is central to his being. By simply choosing a line that’s important to my character, the subsequent character choices are, in a way, made for me, because I have to honor the first statement I made as that character. This is also a very fun way to surprise yourself (and often your scene partners) on stage. (John Carrol)