Characters: Inside out and Outside in-Part 1

 Get it…they’re Disney characters!

Today was the day of my workshop with Bill Arnett, and it was awesome.  We delved into a ton of things about developing and embodying characters in just 2 hours that I can’t even fathom what an entire intensive with this guy would be like.  This post isn’t going to be super involved since it’s late, but I am going to give the notes that I took from the class and maybe expound upon them some.

Ironic T-Shirt Warmup

This warmup was really fun and interesting.  Here is the premise:

  • Stand in a circle
  • One person starts.  They look to the person on either side of them and make up a picture that would be on one of those “ironic” t-shirts (like “Second Amendment” and a dude has bear arms in the picture).
  • that person then comes up with the saying that goes along with the picture the previous person described to them.

Part 2

  • Stand in a circle (I know, you could have figured that one out on your own since it’s “part 2.”  Well SHUT UP!  It’s my blog and I’ll so what I want…)
  • One person starts and does the same thing they did before, describe the picture on the person next to you’s shirt.
  • DIFFERENCE!!  Before the person describing the shirt describes the shirt, the person having their shirt described thinks up a saying.
  • Once the shirt is described, the person says that saying NO MATTER WHAT!  And then moves on to the next person.

And now for the notes from the workshop.

We talked about the meaning of a “character” and defined it as such:

Character- a repeatable pattern of behavior.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  Our behaviors define us, and therefore repeated behaviors will define our character.  If you constantly help people, give money to charity, and volunteer then you are a “good person”.  Whereas if you are a total dick, like to steal, and murder random passerby you are “evil”. (those are just two extremes of course).

Building Character from the Mind and Body

  • you are funnier than your initiation, no matter what you can turn any scene into GOLD!
  • the straight person is a character.
  • being consistent in who you are is being a character.

I’ll start from the top down.

You are funnier than your initiation, no matter what you can turn any scene into GOLD!

  • I love this quote.  This is something I am going to keep in mind every time I’m on stage.  I don’t necessarily like any of my initiations, especially because I rarely have an idea when I go out on stage to initiate (which is fine because I trust my troupe mates to pick up a scene if I got nothing).  It doesn’t matter how you start the scene and it doesn’t have to be funny immediately, or at all, any scene can be amazing…you just have to believe it and let it happen.

The straight person is a character

  • The straight character (one who is acting “realistically”, it has nothing to do with sexual orientation you dirty minded people) is a character in any scene.  Just because you are grounding a scene realistically doesn’t mean you have to be a stick on stage, you can give your realistic character quirks and behaviors to help flesh out the characterization you hope to instill in this person.

Being consistent in who you are is being a character

  • This is a reiteration of what I posted up above.  Consistent behaviors define your character, if you walk with a limp when you get on stage you have a limp for the scene and whenever else that character is on stage.

Play to how the person makes you feel, don’t play to the words.

If there is one thing I took away from this workshop more than anything else, it is this phrase.  Play to how the person is making you feel.  Bill was very adamant about this statement during our exercises and it has gotten me to thinking ever since the workshop.  Basically it means react realistically to what’s being said.  If your scene partner says something that is offensive, and your character would be offended by it, then BE OFFENDED BY IT!  The same goes for anything else that is said.  Don’t try to react “funny” to the words, don’t try to make them a punchline.  The comedy comes from the realistic reaction.  The audience is not stupid, don’t insult their intelligence by explaining the words or treating the scene as a way to achieve a cheap joke, react in a realistic way and the audience will be able to relate to it.  The chances of your reaction being one the majority of the audience would have had are very large, so go with that feeling and don’t try to keep it in.

I’m ending this post with one more subject that we touched on.  I have more notes but I will save the other half of my notes for a later post.

How you’re behaving and your attitude will help to drive the scene, everything else is just a  “variable” and is not important.

The scene is the relationship and your reactions.  While you may be talking about going to pick someone up at the airport or what you are cooking for dinner those nuggets of information are just variables on the overarching scene structure and not important to getting across the comedy of the scene.  You can have a scene without any of that extra stuff and it will still be an amazing scene, we add that stuff to give us ideas to push the scene ahead but they aren’t mandatory.  It’s the iO theory in a nutshell, Relationship is Key.

Final Thoughts

That’s all I have today.  We had our first Improv Fantasy League rehearsal today with my awesome troupe the Lonestar Deathstar and we are ready to kick ass and take names in August.  My fellow blogging buddy Terry Woodroffe is in my troupe as well and she’s awesome (what’s up smiley?!).  I’ll finish writing the rest of my notes out in my next post but I think this post is long enough.  If anyone actually reads this (and wants to come see comedy) I’m performing on Sunday night at 7 pm at Coldtowne as a member of “The Sit-Ins“, this is where a couple of current students sit-in with an established troupe and do a show.  I’ll be joining what I think is the best troupe in Austin The Frank Mills for my performance.  It’s free so you have no reason not to come!

Also, tomorrow night my cage match troupe Troupon is performing at Coldtowne at 8 pm in our first round.  Show up and vote for my troupe so we can move on to the semifinals!  I, sadly, won’t be there for my toupemates but I know they are going to kick major ass.

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