Now that I have shown some basic ways of learning trust in my last lesson, let’s move on to part 3 of ACTING BASICS. I could wax eloquent on the value of improvisation and various improv games, basically anything you’ve seen on “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” but I think I’ll skip that and just have you look up old episodes on YouTube and find someone to practice them with. So we will move on to some more advanced stuff; creating believable characters.
The first thing you will want to do is go to your nearest bookstore and purchase any copy of MONOLOGUES FOR STUDENT ACTORS. It doesn’t matter which version, just make sure they have age appropriate monologues, meaning if you are 15, please don’t play out 60 yr old roles unless a teacher or director requests it, in which case you’ll need to learn how to age yourself with makeup. I digress. Let’s get back on topic. Creating characters is what got me started in on psychology and mental health. I wanted to learn how to make my characters building more authentic.
It is always easiest to start with a monologue you have some sort of connection to. If you were abused or maybe had an unhappy childhood, then find a monologue that reflects that. See how it makes you feel; what it makes you want to do. This is what is often referred to as “motivations” as an actor. This helps to establish an important fact about acting: Just like you, every character has a history. It may not be on paper, but something happened before Conrad Birdie ever became a star in Bye Bye Birdie. Maybe he was the school nerd before he was “discovered” which is why he is so wild at the time he enters the story. He’s making up for lost time.
So you have found a monologue you can relate to? Good, now it is time to analyze the monologue based on what you experienced in your past. This technique is called sense memory. It is a psychological term that refers to the phenomenon where you think about your favorite food and can almost taste it. It can be a very effective way to get into your character. Be careful though, sometimes sense memory can become too real and lose the… bigness so important to project your energy into the audience. Now Stanislavsky first made sense memory an acting technique, but I never believed he carried it far enough.
Go line by line in your monologue and write it down in your own words. This is to ensure that you understand the meaning of each line. This is especially important in Shakespearean theatre , where so many lines are confusing and uses slang of the time period. If you don’t understand what you are saying, how will your audience? Once you understand the meanings of each line, then how can you relate to it? Maybe you can’t but someone you know can… ask them to describe what it was like to experience the situation and what may have led up to it. Basically this is creating what is known in psychology as a biopsychosocial assessment. What is in the characters past that made them timid or angry all the time? Do they have a health problem that could have contributed to the situation? Are they usually strong as a person and do they have a support system or are they alone?
A good example to use is Kim from Miss Saigon. A young teenage orphan forced to sell herself for money in a sleazy bar. If you knew why she was willing to work as a prostitute; why her morals allowed her to do it, couldn’t your character be more real to the audience? Imagine before her mother died, she was taught that nothing is too low to do for money, or desperation making her crack and violating everything she stands for as a person. Very different interpretations of the character that can change the psychological ‘flavor’ of Kim, aren’t they? Might also explain why she fell so desperately in love with the first man she makes love to if she was still grieving and desperate for support and love from someone. Then her love for him and the subsequent baby gives her the determination to live on and dream of a better future, but would any of that have ever happened if her mother had been alive when she began working at the “club”? Interesting questions, agreed?
So I definitely recommend a few psychology classes to you budding actors. Learn how people are influenced, how they learn, how the past can affect the present moment and then you will be better able to know your motivation.
Mark, the author was a professional actor for several years and has performed off Broadway. Currently he is studying to become a clinical therapist and is currently interning as a studen counselor at a mental hospital. This is his own method of creating characters based on his own learning in psychology.
Prof. Arthur P. Shimamura of the University of California, Berkeley, The Exploratorium, Sense Memory. 1999