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How to/Techniques: Get audition ready- Embody a character

In the second of our audition series, Camilla helps you to find and experiment with a character from your chosen play.

 
Acting isn’t a history exam. You can’t know all the facts about the character and the play’s history. Quite often you won’t know who the person you’re playing is, what they’re like, and why they’re saying what they’re saying. This exercise will help you get out of the head-space of trying to analyse a character and back into your body. By embodying a person’s characteristics and qualities, we fully inhabit them and get an instinctive sense of what they’re like. When you’re in an audition you don’t want a character to be an equation you’re reciting in your head – you want it to just ‘be there’ without thinking about it. So, here’s a way to trick your body into experiencing the sensations of being that person.

What you will need:
  • A studio or room where you can move
  • Post-it notes or pieces of paper
  • A pen
  • A notebook where you can write down facts from the play
  • A supportive friend who can read out the statements to you (but you can also do this on your own)

Top tip:

Read the whole play beforehand and make two separate lists: ‘What I say about myself (my character)’, and ‘What others say about me (my character)’. You can never truly understand a character or a scene if you haven’t read the whole play – and trust me, it shows!

 

Exercise: Developing character

Credit: Exercise by Camilla Rutger. Animation by Camille Fontaine.
    1. Write down everything people say about you (your character), and what you say about yourself in the play on separate pieces of paper.

 

    1. Round 1: Make a ‘freeze frame’ of each statement – e.g. stubborn, quiet, over the top etc. Make it as big as possible – 100% physicality – and go through each one back-to-back, like a sequence of frozen pictures. The more you embody the different statements, the more you get out of the exercise.
    2. Round 2: Repeat the same freeze frames, this time at 50% physicality physicality – this means using normal body language; just basic gestures and posturing – like a person you could meet in the street, or how you’d show this character trait to a friend who isn’t an actor.
Credit: Camilla Gurtler.
    1. Round 3: Repeat the same statements, this time without using your body at all, only your eyes. Focus on a point ahead of you and imagine you are showing a person that quality.

 

    1. Write a stream of consciousness of what you discovered. How does it make your character feel when someone calls them stubborn? Are they very physically expressive or does less movement suit their traits better? Is the character’s perception of themselves very different to other people’s?
    2. From this, make a list of your character’s ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’. Are they not very self-aware? Do they try hard to see themselves the way others do?

 

  1. Round 4: Pick four ‘strengths’ and four ‘weaknesses’ and use the above technique. This should give you a sense of their core, or what they’re like on an instinctual basis. You can then add facts like where they’re from, how old they are, and so on, but make sure you’ve embodied their essence before you start working on these things which we call their ‘labels’.

 
Additional exercise:

If you really want to be thorough then write down all of the facts about the character – age, sex, race, where they’re from, beliefs etc – and use the above exercise. Is this version of the character very different to their essence? Or the same? It might give you some invaluable clues as to whether your character is stuck in an environment that doesn’t fit their personality, or whether they follow these labels to the point.

Discover more techniques introduced by Camilla in our related posts.
 
Interested in acting?

BA (Hons) Acting