Photo © Kevin Thom

Someone told me that, in its simplest form, “A character is just an adjective plus a noun.” We’ve all seen the:

• jittery addict

• grumpy oldster

• nerdy I.T. guy

• slutty co-ed

• stern boss

• giggly schoolgirl

But how much more interesting is it to break those stereotypes? Look what happens when we just mix it up a little:

• nerdy addict

• slutty I.T. guy

• giggly boss

Of course, these are just examples.

On stage, your body will always tell you who your character is if you pay close attention. It doesn’t matter what the situation is; what matters is who you are.

A friend who trained with Susan Messing told me a story that perfectly illustrates this. Susan started a scene by coming in with a very sassy physicality, when someone endowed her as a judge. She had a choice: straighten up and become a typical, sober judge (thus destroying the character she had already established), or become the sassiest damn judge on the planet.

You can guess which one she chose.



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  1. May 1, 2012

    There is a great exercise for this called Hilarious Geisha from The Improv Handbook. One volunteer goes up. The rest of the class is given the adjective noun combination for the character like “lonely child.” The rest of the class then tells the volunteer how to physically act on stage to produce this character. Once they think it looks good, the person on stage guesses their adjective noun character. It’s a great way to physically build characters.

    • May 2, 2012

      I think I’ve done a similar exercise way back. Is that a good book? Not familiar with it.

      • May 2, 2012

        Written by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White. It is an excellent improv book.

      • May 2, 2012

        “Go Through the Unusual Door” is a fantastic excersise in this book.

      • May 2, 2012

        Thanks! Will check it out.

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