One of the things I have observed over the years are the various processes American actors and British actors use to becoming/creating a character. The Americans tend to work from the inside out and the Brits often work from the outside in. I believe we must use everything we can to bring a character to life for a performance.
I'd like to introduce observation as a way of life for any actor of any age. Specifically kids and teens, because the sooner a young actor begins to approach the work in this way, the more natural it becomes as they grow into full-fledged actors and conscious human beings. Awareness must become a way of life for the actor.
We have exercises in our classes for younger child actors to do outside of class that are simple and fun. They begin to take on observation as a natural part of their daily lives, illuminating human behavior.
One of the things younger actors can do is this:
Choose three people to study (make sure you take notes) but don't tell the people you are examining that you are doing this. It can be anyone, and it needs to be three completely different types. For example, a child actor can observe a teacher, a parent, sibling, the grocery store clerk, a woman shopping, someone at church or a bus stop. Ask yourself the following;
1. How does this person look? What do they wear? What are they doing?
2. How do they speak, eat, write, and walk?
3. What are their quirks, idiosyncrasy's, or patterns? Do they smile easily, laugh, frown, scowl or grin a lot? Do they hide or show their teeth? Do they twitch or have nervous eyes, hands feet or mannerisms? Do they fidget or are they calm, cool and collected? Are they direct or do they avert their gaze when addressing people? Are they confident or shy?
4. Do they seem happy or sad? What is their general vibe? Do they walk or run funny or normally or do they limp, use a can, wheelchair or crutches? Do they have nervous speaking patterns or are they articulate? Do they have a large vocabulary or are they limited in their communications?
Once you have observed people, I recommend taking notes and keeping a file on various types of people. You can give each different person a file title like, "The cute guy in Spanish class", "The nerd at the pharmacy", "The Queen", "The President of the U.S.," "The popular cheerleader", "The jock", or My Mom, my Rabbi, my little brother, the ditzy girl, my favorite cousin, my Grandpa, my Aunt at my Uncle's funeral... You get the picture.
Now that you have a catalogue of characters to draw from,find a role that you will be playing. You now have observations to help you begin to create a character that has layers. People watching is fun, creative work. As actors, we aren't paid to guess, we are paid to make playable choices and deliver magic that is believable!
Much of what we play will be ourselves - that is always the most accurate. But for those characters that are not like us, we must look outside of ourselves, go on task, and use your observation files. Not only will you have wonderful details to use in your study of the human condition, you will be come a much more expanded person along the way. What a wonderful quality. This really is sacred work we are doing and it is so much fun!
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