View Full Version : Creating a character on stage...

Transparent Theatre
18-06-2008, 04:12
Since both Hazelnut and Gennady said they were interested in discussing this further, I thought I would open a thread for that very purpose.

First, I should explain what I meant about creating Shakespearian characters :) One of the difficulties I have with Stanislavsky (!) is that while I do have past experiences of, for example....
my car refusing to start in extreme cold weather being humiliated in a lesson at school in front of the other kids my father dying

and I can see how those experiences might be used to build other livable experiences...

... I have no experience, for example, in being a mass-murderer. Or in robbing a bank. Or of being critically injured in some kind of accident. Nor have I got anything CLOSE to those experiences... I'm sorry, but killing a cockroach I found in a hotel bathroom in Kursk isn't usable to build up the character of Richard III. No-one cares if a cockroach is killed, but people do care if other people are killed. So the experiences aren't the same, and don't exist in the same continuum.

How many of us know any mass-murderers... so that we would know how they behave, what they do? So here's the second problem... even if we could accurately play a real mass-murderer, the audience wouldn't recognise that behaviour, because it's unknown to them. So when we play (or cast, or direct) "evil" characters, we are constructing an artificial set of behavioural traits which appear credible to an audience full of people who have never actually seen real live evil people. And maybe they seem realistic and credible to us, too? But does a real mass-murderer act nervously, looking behind him to see if he is observed? How do we know? Maybe he doesn't care?

One thing that's a cliche in the reporting of any real-life killing is that some elderly neighbour of the killer will be interviewed saying "Ooooooooh, I never would have suspected! He seemd such a nice, quiet, respectable man". But of course, if we played him like that on stage exactly, the audience would think that he was, errrr... a nice quiet respectable man, and not a murderer at all.

So when I say it's easier to create a Shakespearian character than a character in Chekhov, what I mean is that the audience have a set of tools for judging realistic credible behaviour in the kinds of people who appear in Chekhov's plays. But the public have never met any medieval kings (Henry V), or strange sea-monsters (Caliban)... they have no criteria by which to gauge their expectations. Would a medieval king behave like a modern king? Why not? How do we know he is the King? We expect kings to be wise rulers, but most medieval kings were illiterate. And they became king because it was their father's job, so they followed in this profession, just like a medieval shoemaker's son became a shoemaker. So is their really "kingly" behaviour at all? Or just the behaviour of people? But that, however, isn't interesting for audiences... they want to see a KING, with a CROWN, to know he is the KING in this play. So a set of external behaviours appear in the character which coincide with what audiences think "kings" should be (wise, old, deep-voiced, slow-speaking, self-assured etc). Although this might not really be the behaviour of kings at all...

PS a further problem... audiences often cannot cope with serious and "heavy" emotions. They tend to laugh nervously when bad things happen. I have seen magnificent work, rehearsed for weeks or months, "wrongly understood" by audiences. Last week I went here in London to "The Revenger's Tragedy" (Middleton) at the National Theatre. A common element of those "Jacobean" tragedies is a final scene in which most of the cast are killed. The audience laughed - because they didn't know how to react. So wise productions "prepare" their audience for scenes of violence so that the audience accept them in the way intended by the author... but this may not, in fact, be "truthful" acting to do this??

18-06-2008, 05:54
Actually the public does have a conception about these charachters. It has been given to them by hollywood, whether it be true or contrived. Just like people now believe that when a person is shot he will be propelled ten feet by the impact of the bullet or if a car is shot it will explode. If you want to violate these new realisms then you had better be a damn good actor.
But I agree that this does not lend itself to a strict Stanisklovsky method.

It has long been known that audiences need help in bringing out the right emotion. The classic example is "A Funny Thing Happened on the way to The Forum". When it first came out people didn't know it was a comedy and didn't find it funny. Then they added the first song "A Comedy tonight". After that people realized it was a comedy and it was a hit, as a comedy.

That why we have directors (hopefully good ones).