Rehearsal time is always scarce for FX performers. No matter when you schedule your FX there will always be a lot of life going on around the event, behind the scenes, and circumstances within the daily lives of the people serving.
So how do you help your performers focus on the essential pieces that will help their performances be clear and fun? The following three basic questions will help any performer map out choices that will help build stories on stage.
- What do I (the character) want?
Is it food? Attention? To win? Be important? Find a friend? Make someone happy? Spend some time drilling down the base level of this question. Keep asking the question “Why do I want that?” until you find the essential result that your character desires in that moment more than anything else. A Vinny character is much more powerful and fun when they can say “I want to feel the thrill of flying through the air just like I will in heaven.” as opposed to “I want to ride my bike over a jump.” Even if they never actually speak it, or acknowledge the specifics, they will have a much better reason for passionately chasing the details of their dream result. Make these answers big, full of desire, and as specific as possible.
- What is in my way?
Is it another character’s desires? A physical object or liability? A specific (but not necessarily logical) fear? Lack of resources? An astronomical cost? We wouldn’t be able to show a story without a problem that must be solved. Every character that appears on stage should have this answer ready. It doesn’t matter if the character is doing a 10 minute monologue, or appearing to deliver a package with no lines, the answer to these first two questions will give the story depth and meaning for an audience. It will make it much more interesting to watch and memorable to talk about after the performance. Again, the answer to this question may not be found or defined in the script. The key is that the performer knows the answer, or multiple answers and has given some thought to the importance of each impediment to achieving his or her desires.
- What strategies and tools can I use to try and get what I want?
Threats? Persuasion? Lies? Manipulation? Intimidation? Asking for sympathy? Hiding your true desires from the other characters? Convincing others that helping you will help them? We use thousands and thousands of tactics in our everyday lives to reach for what we want. Our characters should do the same, but in bigger, even more drastic ways. These are the choices that will define why your character, who would never, ever, ever hurt a friend, does exactly that on this one particular day for this one particular reason. Performers should investigate the limits of their character and push them to find the wildest, most interesting choices. This question will lead you to expanded physicality, and a better set of character choices to use when showing any story.
Each of those three questions certainly merit a more in depth exploration. The script will only give clues to the answers. Your answer may not be, and probably should not be the same as someone else who is performing the same character somewhere else. Asking yourself, or your cast these three question and pushing for the most interesting answers will help make your environment clearer, interesting, and memorable for your audience.