In acting character development exercises will always be your starting line, whenever you start a new play, series, film or audition. How do you approach new project? Well, all method acting teachers say, “acting is all about doing”. That’s hundred percent true. No matter how much you think about the character or create your own fantasy about it. It won’t translate into a good performance until you do it. That’s why the exercises are best.
Exercise not only helps you understand the character but it connects you. In this article, you will learn about the basic exercises that will help you develop characters in your career as an actor. If you master them, you would have added powerful tools to your repertoire as an actor. However, you would have to practice them over and over again. More you practice, more it becomes an integral part of your method.
Before you start doing these exercises, you must read the script. Just plain and cold reading. Don’t try to play or learn the lines.
Acting Character Development Exercises
The First Connection
This exercise will always be the first exercise among the acting character development exercises. will help know your character in much deeper level. In other words, you would know his or her complete background. Even the part which is not mentioned in the script. Knowing the background of the character is important step. It is important not just because it offers you the basic information of the character but it will help you connect your inner self to the character.
Method acting teachers like Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Stanislavsky, Sandford Meisner and many more advocate bringing yourself to build the character rather than just building from what the character offers you.
So how do build that connection?
Take a note pad and a pencil. Why pencil? So that you can erase and replace old thought with new and better thought as it comes. Assuming you have read the whole script, Answer the following 7 questions.
Name of the character: Write full name including middle name if possible.
Place and time: Write both birth and current location. Time will offer you the information about the era.
Age: It doesn’t need to be an exact age but you must know if your character is in his 20s, 40s. or beyond that.
Parents: Write if they are dead or alive and what relation they have with each other. Often relation of both parents effects their children’s character.
Job: While writing about the job include the skills character has.
Goal: Write about what your character wants in the story. Be it love, money, revenge, or success.
Obstacles: Write about the obstacles that character must overcome to achieve his or her goal.
For time being only these questions are required. As you start to work with scenes these questions will become base for further analysis.
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When you finish it. Read it several times. Once you are thorough with it. Try find common things between you and the character you will be playing. Make a list of common things below these questions.
Donning the costume
Many actors talk about how their behaviors change wear their characters costume and his happens involuntarily. This makes this exercise a necessary exercise among the other acting character development exercises.
You don’t have to do much with this exercise all you have to do is wear the costume of your character. In addition, wear the make up of you character. Try to be as close as possible to the character in terms of looks.
Once you are ready, do few activities. Not necessarily a scene from the script but basic activities like walking, sitting, drinking. Remember, be truthful to the time and place this character belongs to. At this stage avoid any dialogue. Preparing for the dialogues is altogether a completely different exercise. Only stick to the physical activities.
Stage this simple scene at your home or workshop or stage:
Your character enters the room and walks to a bottle of alcohol. Pours himself or herself a drink. Then takes a seat to enjoy the drink. If want, instead of alcohol you can make you character drink tea or coffee. But it has to be a beverage that your character drinks to relax.
Note, for the purpose of scene use water because you will be doing this exercise again and again. You don’t want to be drunk or heavily caffeinated.
Key for this exercise is not to force any clichés of the character. Be natural. The main aim these types of acting character development exercises is to infuse yourself to the character, not imposing the character on yourself.
It is advised if you have the set at your exposure practice this exercise on the sets. Daniel Day Lewis used to roam the sets of Gangs of New York dressed as “the butcher” even before the shooting began.
Speech is very technical thing to work on if your character has certain accent or language. If you are not familiarized with the accent, it is advised to hire a dialect coach. Learn the accent first. For this exercise lets assume, you know the accent or your character speaks the same accent or language.
The aim of these acting character development exercise is to find the right pace and tone. If observe carefully, the pace and tone of different age groups are completely different. A person who is old speaks with slower pace and deeper tone. On the contrary, a kid would be in hurry to finish his story with squeaky tone.
If you have done the first exercise right, you would know the age of the character, place and era to which character belongs. First, know the right accent and also find if your character as any speech impairment. Speech impairment would require in depth preparation. But for learning purpose, let’s stick with the speech of normal human being.
Once you are aware of the age and accent, take a book or newspaper. Read it with pace and tone that corresponds to your character’s speech. Try different ways. Play with the tempo of the speech. Record your voice. So that you can hear and try different voices.
Heath ledger believed. You find the voice of the character, you find the character.
Remember, were only looking for the pace and tone. You should not change your voice, until and unless the script demands it. Avoid reading materials that has rhythm or its own tempo like poems, song lyrics or even dialogues of movies.
This exercise is among the widely taught acting character development exercises. This exercise not only brings all the elements of the character into once place but also teaches you how not anticipate as character. The main issue taking up a new character is that you are not familiar what your character’s next step would be. So, you start to anticipate lot of actions. This exercise eradicates the anticipation completely.
Generally, this exercise is standalone exercise among the acting character development exercises. It can be done simply as an activity to hone yourself as an actor. But if add dimension of a character and then perform it. It will help you bring much closer to the character. Sometimes you would find something so unusual and creatively interesting that you wouldn’t have imagined otherwise.
This exercise is straight out of Uta Hagen’s book Respect for Acting (Available on Amazon):
Device a scene at your home or set where you have lost something like a key or tickets or ring, anything that is valuable and creates urgency to find it. Let’s assume you have lost the only key of your apartment, and you suppose to meet a girl or guy for a date. You are hoping to bring him or her home. You really want this to happen but without the key you won’t be able to come back into your apartment.
Know keeping all the attributes of character, put on the costume and make up to. And now just find the key. Keep as many as possible places to search. Improvise whenever possible. Device the logical places for object to be there. For example, you check the drawer that usually has the key or check the dining table where your character forgot the key on many occasions.
In the end when you find the key, you will notice there is emotion of either joy, anger or relief that fits the character you are playing. Repeat the exercise over and over again to find some new nuances. It is recommended to this exercise last after you have done all the above-mentioned exercise.
These acting character development exercises are to be done over and over again to find new aspects of your character. Once you have found your character you can move forward and start preparing for the scenes. Keep recordings or notes of the findings of these exercises, so that whenever if feel stuck, you can refer to it. Always leave room for improvisation, because any number of time you do these character development exercises, there will always be one more aspect of the character that you can add but you haven’t come across it.