Why do we create characters on stage? | JesterZ Improv

Author: Preston Smith

This is round two in character development blog posts

I am relativity sure that I am not beating a dead horse by going on and on about character development. Tonight in our character development class I posed the question: Why do we create characters on stage? There were a number of great answers that were all correct; to add emotion, variety, point of view and so on… However, there was one answer that I really want to talk about and it is this: To give the audience something they can relate to.

As much as I love a flesh eating zombie on stage with a mild case of narcolepsy, it is really hard to relate to that person… not impossible, but hard. Now create a sales person character who has a huge smile and straight teeth with an overly intrusive personality and you have someone that I can relate to… not only me but other improvisers and audience members.

When the audience can relate to our characters it sucks them more into the scene and makes them believe the idea of the scene better. If an audience member is more involved in the scene, the more they will like it. A great group that I think does this really well is Ratliff & Jackson out of Austin… 19 minute scene between a father and his daughter… as relate-able as it comes! Check out the video here.

Here are a couple of great exercises to help build better relate-able characters:

Interview Exercise
3 or 4 students walk around in the room, the teacher points out the way the student is walking, what they are leading with and so on. The teacher then tells the student to change their walk a little bit, lead with something else. The teacher repeats the process with all students walking around the room. He then invites the students to sit in chairs in front of him where he conducts on interviews of each character, asking them questions while the student stays in character. Once the teacher has interviewed all the characters, the characters are then invited to do some scenes together.

Character Mimic

4 or 5 students sit in chairs on stage. One student just starts talking in character about what ever the character has on its mind. After 30 seconds of so, another students starts talking as a different character, this patter repeats itself until everyone has introduced themselves as a character. Now is where it gets a little crazy… Students can now take turns talking in character, if a students likes another students character they can go and stand behind the student chair and talk as the other students character at the same time the first student is talking as their character… and so on, even to the point that ll 5 students are talking as the same character.