Staying true to your character

“Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art.”

Konstantin Stanislavski

I remember getting my first lead in a theatre show and experiencing for the first time, the weight and responsibility that came with it. Up until then I had played minor roles either supporting the principal actors with props in hand or occasionally getting a ‘walk on’ line. I even played ‘the third tree from the right’. But no matter what the role, even if the lines were small, feeling the audience’s eyes upon you and knowing that the fate of the show rested in my hands for that small passing of time, was for me quite intense.

The role was Captain Hook for the show Peter Pan. We performed three shows a day to audience numbers ranging from 2,000 to 2,500 per show. The audience was largely made up of children ranging from the ages of 5 to 12 years old with a sprinkling of parents and caregivers. So as you might imagine, because of the audience’s age, there was very little tolerance for weak, half-hearted acting and poorly executed scenes. They would talk, run up and down or basically switch off. But when you did manage to win them over, you really had them, lock stock and barrel. The key to winning them over and keeping was critical.

My director would say things like, “grow yourself within the character and never reduce the role of the character to a performance for the audience”. I would ponder this as to what it actually meant because surely we are performers and our performance is for the audience? I knew that somehow this was correct but it took awhile for me to completely understand it.

We’d completed many rehearsals. We’d worked through the technical and had successfully completed the dress rehearsal. But playing for the first time to the ‘public’ was something else. For me, it was making sure I didn’t drop lines, cues and blocking etc. By the second show my confidence was building and I could sense a rapport building with the audience. I began to sense that the audience was becoming quite approving and reactive to what my character was doing within the show. At that point, while on the stage, I had to consciously pull myself back into the character and forget about myself within that role, in order for me to complete the performance correctly. It was not me they were excited about. It was Captain Hook. After that show, I knew exactly what the director meant by “growing yourself within the character…”

I have seen too many times, and once is too much, when actors have been swayed by the audience’s generosity or lack thereof. The moment the ‘fourth wall’ is allowed to influence the performance of an actor, either positively or negatively, to the point where the actor feels that they need to win the audience’s approval, is when the actor has now become a ‘performer’ that is driven by laughs, cheers and reactions in general. At this moment they have lost touch with their character and their character’s purpose in the scene and even the play. Sadly, for the audience, the magic of the illusion has also been lost at this point and the show has now been reduced to a person performing for the reward of audience approval.

As an actor it is our responsibility and our duty to deliver the best possible performance of the character. While using all that we are to do this, we must also of ourselves, remain invisible. “Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art”.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top