Character Study is an essential part of any actor’s process, no matter how experienced. It involves creating and internalizing the details of your character’s life. These details can range from personality traits, to history and family background, to even the most mundane details like favorite color or favorite food. The more thought that an actor gives their character, the easier it is to “stay in character” throughout a scene.
At 4th Wall, we typically ask our students to complete character studies relatively soon after receiving their roles and their lines. Once we’ve done our first read through, the students’ “homework” is to think about their character’s personality and background, and how they would respond to the world in the context of the play.
Depending on the group that you are working with, there are various levels of character study that you may want to try. For beginning actors, we tend to keep our character studies relatively simple. We ask students to respond, in character, to a series of fairly concrete questions. For example, we may use questions like:
- What is your name?
- Who are the members of your family? Do you have siblings?
- What is your favorite food?
- What is your favorite color?
- How old are you?
- How do you feel about the events that are happening in this story?
It often helps beginners to give them these kinds of questions ahead of time, allowing them plenty of time to formulate their answers.
Once your actors are more experienced, you may begin to ask more in-depth and difficult questions. For example:
- What are your dominant personality traits?
- How did your childhood affect who you are as a person?
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- Why do you react the way you do to the events that are happening in the story?
- Does your outlook on things change throughout the course of the story?
There are, of course, a whole range of questions that you may ask your actors while they are in character. If they’ve done a thorough character study, they should be able to answer any question that you throw at them! With your advanced actors, it can be a fun exercise to have them stand up in front of the group and take questions without “breaking character.” We’ve heard all kinds of crazy questions, from “Where did you go to elementary school?” to “What kind of underwear do you like the best?” It’s a fun way for students to be creative, and a great exercise in character development!
Whatever style of character study you decide will work best for your students, it will help them to begin exploring what acting truly is. Without character exploration, it is nearly impossible to motivate lines and reactions on stage. And that, after all, is the very foundation of acting. As we always say, acting is reacting!