If you’ve read any of my previous posts on this topic, you’ll already know what I’m about to say, but I’d like to explain it a little more.
Much of our training, the curriculum and even individual outcomes for qualifications demand that we’re able to ‘get into character’ or ‘sustain character’. I remember long ago at college, one of the criteria to be marked on was ‘can effectively step in and out of character’. Well, whatever that means, I’d like to take the opportunity to describe how I believe you can ‘get into character’, or at least have that feeling.
The times that you have ‘felt’ in character, you were not the character. No one can be, it’s well meaning nonsense. During these times, you made a connection to the text that allowed you to perform the actions of the character in such a way that you felt it working right. In other words, you were not the character, but you were doing something very similar to the character. You were performing their actions.
I agree, you may have felt ‘in character’. I understand, I’ve felt it too. But I wasn’t and sadly, neither were you. What happened is that you performed these actions consistently and repeatedly and they weren’t the types of actions or tactics that you would do yourself, so that you felt removed from yourself. Add to this that you became so immersed in what you were doing that your SELF consciousness didn’t prevent you from you enjoying acting the role. Furthermore, you were so immersed in it, that you felt that everything you were doing WAS the character. Well, it was, but it was you doing the character’s actions without fear, self consciousness – it was you truly focused. Have you ever been to the cinema/movie theater, watched a film and found yourself really sucked into the film and then you think… oh yeah, I’m at the movies. Well, that’s what’s happening to you on stage: your focus, concentration and attention was so powerfully drawn that you had a brand new experience. Under these conditions, you felt highly successful and surprised. You named it ‘being in character’ because you didn’t know what else to call it.
BUT… but.. you cry: what about all these actors saying it takes ages to get ‘out of character’? and haven’t I felt that feeling where it’s hard to shake the character off? Yes. Yes! I know that feeling too, but it wasn’t you inhabiting the character. It was the characteristics of the character inhabiting YOU.
Spooky? No, no, read what I wrote. It wasn’t the character inhabiting you, it was the habitual characteristics of the character being inside you. What does this mean then? It means that if you perform the same repeated psychophysical actions repeatedly, you will eventually habituate those actions and any associated feelings. You will then find it a little difficult to shake them off immediately. Some of the residual connection between action and feeling will remain. That’s why you struggle to shake off the character. I remember in University my friend playing Carol in Oleanna. She came home and was horrible to everyone, then she said ‘oh sorry, I’m just struggling to get out of character’. Everyone laughed, but the theatre students took it very seriously. When we examine that situation, she had been rehearsing the final act of Oleanna, where Carol’s actions (her tactics) are very negative, challenging, confronting, insulting and attacking. If she spent all day performing those, no doubt she habituated those tactics and any associated feelings.
For some more advice on ‘Getting into Character’ see this helpful YouTube Video.