How many versions of “Me” can I play?

This weekend at Coldtowne Theater is another intensive that is being run by Bill Arnett from the iO Theater in Chicago.  I highly recommend checking out his blog on improvisation which I have linked at the bottom of the page in my blogroll.  Sadly I was unable to sign up for his entire workshop but I was able to get into his Saturday afternoon workshop entitled “Characters: Inside Out and Outside In” following is the description of the workshop:

“Am I playing a character or myself? How close to myself can I play
before it stops being a character? Are these questions even important?
This workshop will ask players to create characters by working outside
in and inside out and find confidence in their play. Strong play has a
strange habit of making those questions not matter.”

This is what I want to touch on in this post today, portraying characters onstage.

This is a part of improv (and acting in general) that I feel I still struggle with.  I never really get into a “character” per se when I am onstage.  There have been times when I’ve attempted to change accents and mannerisms, but I notice they either fall by the wayside, I don’t commit completely to what I’m doing, or I forget what the character’s needs and wants are.  I find myself just playing different versions of myself and not really expanding my boundaries in discovering new characters (does that sound pretentious?).

I find myself standing offstage ready to go in for a scene, completely knowing that I’m going to “do something different this time” or I’ll “play an old woman” or I’ll “use quotation marks unnecessarily” but as soon as I step foot onstage I’m either Jeremy #1, Jeremy #2 (with a southern accent), or a stoner.  I seem to relegate myself to portraying the same character overall, even if my pitch or dialect is changing.  I don’t exactly know why it is I choose to limit myself onstage but I feel I have narrowed it down to a couple reasons.

Number 1

I’m scared.  That’s it.  I’m scared to go on stage and try to be someone completely different.  I’m scared to go onstage and play a female roll, I’m scared to go onstage and be absurd.  I play the “straight” character way too often.  I’m scared it’s going to (as my good friend Terry says) “break improv”.  I know I shouldn’t think that way but I can’t help it.  This past weekend we talked about “double down”, where if you are doing something just do more of it and make it bigger.  I am a firm believer that as long as you commit to whatever you’re doing it is going to work and it will go over with the crowd, but for some reason when it comes to actually creating someone onstage I fall short of that.

Number 2

I’m also not confident in my ability.  I find myself over thinking a lot of things outside of the performance area now.  I second guess choices I make onstage when I’m sitting at home or driving back from the theater.  I don’t think I’m that funny.  Now I know, I know…”don’t play for the cheap joke”, and I don’t!  But it’s the building of relationships that kind of throw me for a loop.  I second guess choices in a scene sometimes, I get antsy when I don’t hear laughter or chuckles or some type of feedback (this is especially true in class where it’s OK to suck!), and the longer this goes on the more i’m thinking “oh God this is terrible isn’t it, why am I doing this?  Why can’t I be as funny as everyone else that I’m playing with?”  It’s a terrible thing to be doing in a show and it drives me crazy outside of a show.

Sadly I do know how to fix this.  Double down.  Commit to what you’re doing onstage and it will go over!  I mentioned it before (if you reading, which you probably are since these are words, it was like 45 seconds ago when i mentioned it) but it’s totally true.  For some reason I just can’t get past the “being myself” onstage (or a stoner, which is really weird…).  I’m hoping this workshop will give me ideas on developing a character on the fly and making it “mine”, really adding depth and a personality to the character I’m portraying.

I’m excited about this workshop, and you should be excited for me as well.  I just wish I could do the entire weekend but alas, it was not meant to be.

Oh, sorry about all the quotations this post.  I can’t promise it won’t happen again…”maybe”.


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