Theatre Information

In Character

By • Jul 6th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I try to be “in character” the few minutes backstage before I enter the scene. When I am not in a scene and have an extended period off time off stage (at least ten minutes) I am in the green room or the dressing room, depending on the venue. Am I “in character” then?

Different characters affect me in different ways, and hence my mood and behavior backstage varies somewhat. But generally, the answer to this question is, no. I am not in character the entire time I am off stage.

I think maintaining 100% of the façade of a character I play even when I am not on stage performing welcomes mental and physical exhaustion. Plays are tiring enough as is without adding an extra drain to my resources. I need some time when I am at “parade rest,” to use military parlance. I remain focused on my next job so I don’t miss a cue, and remain in the proper mindset for performing. Depending on the upcoming scene I will probably be less talkative, and make an effort to be alone when possible. I may have to “dig” a bit. But I am still Ty even then.

I am sure you have heard talk of those actors who are in character as soon as they enter the theatre building, and are not out of it until the final curtain. I have nothing personal against such types, but I can’t help wondering if it doesn’t take something out of the acting experience, both for the actor, and for those around him.

His cast mates and crew members are going to have to remember to call him by his character’s name. And even if they remember to do that, they will be unable to ask the person anything about which the character would have no knowledge.

“I’m John Proctor. I know not of this make-up table of which you speak.”

Not a very practical way to be a team player, in my mind.

An actor must always be aware on some accessible level that they are in fact performing. If I am an actor giving a good performance I am bound to feel emotions of the character, and feel a bond between myself and same. But if I sublimate myself totally, is that performing or deluding? When I am performing I can course correct. If I am nothing but Friar Laurence no matter what anybody says or does to me, I can’t respond to important theatre issues. If something in the real world happens to affect the production I am in, doesn’t Ty Unglebower need to take the helm and adjust for the new circumstances?

“I am Othello! But Olivier is in control,” the great Sir Laurence said in his book On Acting. Like much of what he said, I think he nails it. Acting is about control. Again, moments may occur when we get carried off by something as we perform, but we should keep our feet on the ground for when it is over.

Or at least a big toe.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.