Posts Tagged 'Theatre'

The Importance of an Interesting Character

Picture by Ben Gagnon Photography

I consider myself an artistic person.  If something has words or pictures, I can create it.  I’m not blessed with the gift of agility and balance, or with a lovely voice, so dancing and singing is pretty much out of the question.  Everything else, however, is free game.  Writing anything, sketching, painting, scrapbooking and other various crafty things… love ’em.  Writing (obviously) is very close to my heart, but so is one other thing – the theatre.

I made my first stage appearance as Clara in a production of the Nutcracker Suite.  Granted, it was fourth grade, and I hit some guy in the audience with my slipper instead of the Rat King… but we don’t need to go there.  Ever since, I have been theatrically inclined.  When I learned that I fail at projection (and singing.  and dancing) I moved to the world of improv theatre, and it came to me naturally.

In theatre, the creation of character is essential.  In larger productions, someone has already created the character for you and all you need to do is apply it and expand it within certain limitations.  Improv is much different.  You step on to that stage a blank slate, and you have about thirty seconds (if you’re lucky) to create a fully rounded character.  You can’t go on stage and say “hi!  I’m like, Mary Sue, and I like,  like, stuff!”  No.  That is fail!improv.  You have to create insta-backstory, motive, fears, likes and dislikes, consistent personality traits, allegiances… everything.  And if you don’t do it well, you lose your chance to charm the audience.

Writing isn’t a whole lot different.

I’m not going to under-appreciate essential points like plot, theme, setting, style, spelling and grammar… but characters are incredibly important in the creation of a good story.  I have kept reading books that I disliked because I liked the characters in them.  I know there are other readers out there like that, too.  I want to feel, breathe, and embrace every major character (and some minor characters) I come across.  I want to feel like, as I read the story, I can step into that character’s shoes and actually be in her world.  Don’t you?

Obviously, we shouldn’t make them too complicated, because then the audience won’t relate at all, and we’ll get those metaphorical tomatoes thrown at us.  But it’s the little things that arouse sympathy and empathy that are important.  I have an acquaintance who loathes the Potter books, but loves Harry because they share a birthday.  We don’t call Marion a traitor in Scarlet because we know that she loves Bran (even though she hasn’t said) and what she’s doing, she is doing for him.  All the bits and pieces.  I can say honestly that I am upset with J.K. Rowling because I feel like Draco Malfoy showed definite signs of redemption, and she denied him that opportunity.  Who knows?  Even a well-placed character may turn your audience against you (but they’ll keep gobbling up your books).  But Kristin Nelson reminds us that appealing a character to the reader is important.

So.  My questions for you are:

1.)  Who are your favorite characters in fiction of all time, and why?
2.)  Have you ever put down a book because you didn’t like the characters?
2b.)  Have you ever kept reading an uninteresting book because you loved the characters?

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Makeovers are Fun!

Midsummer Prep.

Let me clarify that title, though.  Makeovers are fun as long as there is no makeup involved.  Not a huge fan of painting my face.  Every once in a blue moon, I’ll use mascara and lip gloss (or occasionally, lip stick).  But that’s all.  Seriously.  And only for special occasions.  I won’t wear foundation. …  I even avoid it in theatre.  I think the only time I got stuck with foundation was for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the time when I played Cobweb.  And even then, it was only because the faeries were all white/light blue.  I’m pale, but I’m not that pale.  But that show is one that makes me grumpy.  It was incredibly poorly directed.  At this point, it’s just humourous, but while I was going through it, it was a nightmare.

But this entry isn’t about that show (thank gooseness).  This entry is my announcement that I’m officially done playing with my layout.  I love it, love it all.  It’s going to stay like this:  i.e., the makeover is over.

I’ve changed the theme somewhat subtley to a Harry Potter-esque feel.  This celebrates my geekdom, and it’s reminiscent for me.  I’ve had online-thought-processing since I was a freshman in high school, and consistently, I’ve had Harry Potter themes.  I designed my GreatestJournal layout myself.  GreatestJournal doesn’t exist anymore, so I can’t show it to you.  Point and fact?  This layout celebrates me as a person.

I will post later tonight about the course of the day, topics ranging from WiiFit to my Awards letter (ohmygooseI’maseniorincollege!!! EEK!).  Right now, I have a hot dog waiting on the grill for me to devour it.  I love summertime.

Awoo! Awoo! Awoo!

Tugging another player into the group.

May 21, 2010; Keene, NH: A small group of improvers trying to get a friend to join the fun by "tugging him in" with an imaginary rope. Effects added in Photoshop.

“With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it’s just not acting. It’s lying.” ~ Johnny Depp.

I have noticed recently that almost every single day I get a hit from someone on WordPress who’s searching “ActingOut”.  I do tend to post pictures or snippets from the group, but rarely anything more.  So, I don’t know who is searching “Acting Out” constantly, and what they’re looking for, but I’ll tell you what it is to me:

I am an intern for ActingOut, a local community improv theatre group for the youth in my area.  We do many things, the most basic levels of which are:  community education, skill-building, and providing a safe and nurturing environment for the area’s youth.  That’s the most basic level of the services and such that the group provides.  There’s all sorts of definitions, but I find that a lot of them are incredibly personal.

This is my fifth season with the troupe.  I joined as a sophomore in high school when the improv group was first formed.  That was a short season, and I remember at the end of it there were very few people there.  In the end, just me and two friends.  Both the others stayed with it until they graduated high school, but they drop in every now and then.  I’m with it still.  Sometimes, I don’t know why I am.  It makes me so mad sometimes.  And it certainly eats up all my free time.  But I do stay because of the students.  Most of them become my friends, and I enjoy teaching them, and learning from them.

My expertise?  The games.  Sometimes I think that teaching the games is just my justification for watching far more Whose Line Is It Anyways? in my free time.  But that’s what I think I’m best at.  I’ve helped create a few games, and I keep teaching ones from Whose Line I think we can pull off.  I’m waiting for the right musical talent to try out Greatest Hits.  Some day, wouldn’t it be nice, if we wrote enough letters, we could get Ryan Styles or Colin Mochrie to cameo at our 24-hour fundraiser event?  That’s my dream, but it’ll never happen.

Teaching is a lot of fun.  All my student are immensely talented, in such a way that I cannot fairly capture it in my photographs, no matter how many I take.  I get the privilege to watch each of the students grow.  The only film I have available online is very old stuff, at least four years old, and the talent has changed.  I’m not saying that the videos are bad – Superheroes is one of my favourites, period.  But the 90-60-30 isn’t the strongest we’ve done.  Still, it’s an example of some of our “silly” work (despite the poor quality).

We don’t focus on the comedy improv as much as we focus on issue oriented improv.  That’s where we get our funding, and I’m not going to lie, it is important.  The games are used to teach skills, so we can do the issue-based improv better.  Unlike a traditional improv troupe, we are not there to entertain the audience.  We are there to educate them.  And what makes the group influential is the fact that they’re not well-dressed, stiff professionals.  They are the youth of the day.  They’re fourteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds.  All of whom firmly believe the things they say.  They are some of the strongest and most talented individuals I know.

And it is a pleasure to teach them and know them.

Live, Laugh, Love.

The "L" key on my typewriter.

May 17, 2010; Chesterfield, NH: A dimly-lit macro-shot of my typewriter. The letter "L".

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” ~ Charlie Chaplin.

Laughter is the very best medicine.  I cannot stress that enough.  Every day people are hit with a thousand things, demands for their time and money, harsh words, and other such things.  As the world moves faster and faster, people are shorter with each other.  Working in retail, I have learned that everybody has had enough of the world.  We’re running as it is and the economy keeps notching up the speed.  We’re out of breath, we’re upset, things aren’t falling into place, it’s okay, I understand.  Believe me, just because I am not you doesn’t mean I can’t feel your stress.  The strings are being pulled tighter and tighter and eventually they’re going to snap.

I hope people can go home and relax.  I don’t get the impression that they can.  In my home, my father has always brought work home with him.  Part of that is because he works in a “home office” (also known as, the living room).  The tension comes home with the job, family just makes it worse because they want something, too.  If we can’t go home and relax, how can we laugh?  How can we alleviate the tension?  It’s a matter of choice, I believe.

Work is going to be there whether we think about it or not.  When we go home, we have to be able to drop the worries about work and be happy with the people we’re with.  My friends have been trying forever (literally) to get me to live in the moment and I’m trying to do just that.  Because otherwise, I can’t drop worries about work and just sit down and laugh.

One of the reasons I have stuck with ActingOut for so long is the laughter that comes with it.  Unfortunately, it has become more work than fun for me in the last couple years, but every time there is that one improv game that makes me fall to pieces, it seems worth it.  Sometimes, I sit down and watch Whose Line Is It Anyways? marathons, because even if I’ve seen the episode twenty times, I’ll find something new to laugh at.  Maybe it’s someone’s facial expression.  Who knows.  But laughter alleviates everything.  There are so many different ways to find laughter.  Lately, for me, it’s improv theatre.

I challenge the world to put their day away when they punch out and come home and find something to laugh over, and to fellowship with friends and family.

After all, Charlie Chaplin was the master of laughter, and how can you argue with him?


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something to think about

"You know, I don't know if you'll understand this or not, but sometimes, even when I'm feeling very low, I'll see some little thing that will somehow renew my faith. Something like that leaf, for instance - clinging to its tree despite wind and storm. You know, that makes me think that courage and tenacity are about the greatest values a man can have. Suddenly my old confidence is back and I know things aren't half as bad as I make them out to be. Suddenly I know that with the strength of his convictions a man can move mountains, and I can proceed with full confidence in the basic goodness of my fellow man. I know that now. I know it." ~ End of Act I in the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

competing for the house cup

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