Wear Your Character Like A Thin Veil

Del Close has been quoted as coaching improvisers to “wear your character like a thin veil.” In other words, portraying characters so they come across as real and three dimensional as opposed to over-embellished and superficial. So how do we learn to play “characters” not “caricatures”?

When I was new to improv, I was heavy handed with my characters. I played the burly truck driver who cusses a lot.  The pig farmer who was a simpleton. The sassy prostitute. I played them “loud and proud” and they were caricatures. Then I was coached to “play closer to myself” in scenes – to react honestly. This worked fine in some cases, but other times I felt lost and without a strong point of view. Now my goal is to create characters by finding a strong and unique internal point of view while not overplaying the physicality or falling back on stereotype.

There are many approaches to creating character. TJ Jagadowski described using the suggestion as a starting point. For example, if the suggestion is “bird” – you could use the logic that birds are free and move gracefully. You could embody a free thinking individual and let that point of view influence how you move. Susan Messing described finding character through physicality – changing up your body, walking a little differently and letting that inform your character’s point of view. Other improvisers find character by choosing an emotion and letting that emotional state drive the character’s development.

Audiences connect with characters who are believable – characters that convey an honesty that comes from your authentic self. It helps to practice character development through different approaches and exercises to determine what works best for you. And to be coached in “dialing up” or “dialing down” your portrayal.  If you’d like to try some different techniques for approaching character, join one of our summer intensives this August!