BEGINNING TO LOOK AT CHARACTER WORK
The essence of character acting is the ability to alter your own everyday, straight behaviour to create the illusion of a character. That’s all it is. An illusion. If anyone thinks they can seriously ‘get into character’ or ‘become the character’, they have a problem and it isn’t theatrical. Amazingly, some well known actors still drink from this poisoned chalice. They tend to be ‘difficult’ which is the polite word for it.
When training actors to begin the process of altering their straight behaviour, I usually ask them to come in in pairs with a simple improvisation which involves one knocking on the others door for a simple reason, whilst the other is in the room busily engaged with some difficult but emotionally compelling activity.
Both partners will also have rehearsed a physical impediment which, as its name suggests, is an addition to their everyday behaviour. People usually choose a limp, a lisp, an accent or dialect, deafness or blindness.
The latter is useful for the actor for many reasons: to begin with, this particular impediment crops up in many plays and films – The Miracle Worker, Butterflies Are Free and The Room to name but a few. Also the actor, instead of pretending to be blind (there’s no technique in pretending!) has instead to focus his or her attention on doing things that blind people do, namely responding through the other physical senses notably touch and hearing. This forces the actor into an intensely vulnerable and sensitised state. Few if any of us are prepared at the beginning to accept the level of vulnerability which playing blind actually demands. Actors can sometimes force their visual contact, usually in an effort to get the audience to look at them. Playing blind can help cure them of this problem.
When actors first start experimenting with impediments, some under estimate the amount of rehearsal necessary to portray the illusion convincingly. As a result, all their efforts are focuses on playing blind. Thus, they become quite tense. Instead, the actor must learn to relax into and through the impediment so that he or she can listen and allowed their emotional life to flow. If an actor fails to listen and lacks a compelling but fluid inner life, the audience will fail to engage fully with them. By Simon Furness