Not that it’s really left me, but I’ve been trying to iron out wrinkles in my post-COVID character-creation abilities since recapturing acting mistakes on “First Date” last spring.
For “First Date,” most of us in the cast had to play multiple characters, though each was one-dimensional at best. My new challenge is the upcoming CTG/WYO co-production “Noises Off” which will be on WYO’s Sophie’s Stage this May.
For those unfamiliar, playwright Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” is a satire on the making of a play and the many characters that may appear in it. It uses the screenwriting strategy of a play within a play, allowing us to see actors not only as characters but people as well, as well as bringing together many different interesting and often toxic concoctions in a sterile environment. On top of that, what they’re putting on is a fake British bedroom farce with its own raunchy connotations, all designed to keep customers going for a clean but naughty evening.
Like the usual characters in Commedia dell’Arte, Frayn’s play presents us with many recognizable stereotypes. The once-celebrity actress tried to get one last shot before realizing she might be eliminated. The majestic hero on stage, but the audience couldn’t put the two ideas together. There are many, many more.
What about my character? I play the director. If you’ve seen the 1992 film adaptation, this is Michael Caine playing the character. So, it’s a challenge for any actor. How do I make my performance my own, and do I need to worry about the shadow cast by this character’s performance so well? After directing this film at SHS with high school students in 2008, I’ve been dying to be in the production.
Character development is different for every actor, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to character development. For me, I usually start with what I bring to the role, so there’s some honest character checklist that needs to be carried throughout. When I teach acting, I ask my students, “What does every character you play have in common? You.” Of all the people who auditioned, the director chose me for this particular role because he thought my Traits are the ones who are best at playing the role, and so are the others in their particular roles.
So, what do I bring to this role? This is where I sometimes fall into a dangerous trap because I start thinking about what I can bring to the role instead of what I should bring to the role. Our director, Dan Cole, asked me to add a British accent to the character, which solved a lot of problems for me. That’s because another adage that’s stuck with me over the years is, “Everything you need to know about your character is in the script.” That’s a problem for me, too, because sometimes there are things in the script that I Can’t read it, so I’ll have to look it up.
Here’s what I know about Lloyd. He’s British (due to director’s choice). He’s known for the quality of his performances, because as soon as the show hits, he’s already booked another job. Plus, this is a UK professional tour company, so Lloyd’s not an amateur. But his position as a reliable director could affect his future employment if the matter goes awry. Now, I can’t directly touch on most of this, but that’s what the show is all about, isn’t it? We are imagining. This is basically what the great Stanislavsky taught us with the magic “if”: “What if I were this person in this situation? How would I behave?”
For me, those elements of Lloyd were all I had to know. With our first rehearsals in mind, I had some great ideas for playing my stage partner and really digging into the character. However, I found that these basics were exactly what I needed. At the end of the day, British bedroom farce is a carefully crafted recipe that, if done poorly, can really leave a bad impression on the audience. So, my Lloyd is now someone with these basic traits, but I realize he’s just trying to put the lid on the pot while everyone else is determined to blow it off. It’s a joke, as one of my actors has said many times.
And, somewhere in there, yeah, we learned all those lines.
I hope to see you in the audience in May, and I’ll see you at halftime (or rather, for this production, at the stage door.)
aaron odom is the owner and operator of the Trident Theatre.