Relationships with Your Character: Keeping it Fresh

Vicki Trask 

  • OnStage Canada Columnist

This story is about how I tried to keep things fresh when my relationship fell a little flat. That is: my relationship with my character. I’d been living with this creature for about four months before opening night and it took a lot of struggle to get to know her. She was larger than life and demanded every hour of attention but getting into those layers took work. By opening night I was exhausted but satisfied at the performance I was able to give. We were two peas in a pod, completely in love.

Long story short, due to popularity, the show got extended to twice the original run. What started as a standard, scheduled run suddenly became double; double the work, double the time with my character, double the pressure to create the same performance over and over again. 

Once the new run began, I was understandably excited to take the show and character to new heights. It was like the idea of a second first date: rediscovering what you love about each other, excited to just spend time together. But after the first week, I realized something wasn’t right. Jokes weren’t landing the same way, movement wasn’t fluid, it was just familiar – like we’d been on this date before. I was bored, no, I was too rehearsed. We’d spent so much time together, it meant an eventual lull in the relationship which I wasn’t expecting. After being with this character for months, nothing about her surprised me.

The quest then became how to make it new and fresh again. It wasn’t enough to do it all over again, I had to be proactive. I had to get that nervous energy back; that jittery excitement that comes from stepping on stage for the first time. 

The first step was to go back to the script. I found I had written out so many intentions, inflections, and beats that completely went out the window once I moved into the theatre. It was fascinating and humorous to see how far I’d come – for better or for worse – and the first thing I did was look at the intentions behind what I was saying and doing. Whether or not it made a difference in my performance, I suddenly became aware of the choices I was making. 

Step two was to move around. It’s one thing to think about what I’m doing, it’s another to just do. My character was very physical so I spent an afternoon – and I recommend this as a good exercise – just walking and exploring space through her skin. It involved a lot of crawling around and hip movement but at the end of the day it helped my confidence to be aware of every little movement, to feel the energy through my fingertips. Before I went on stage every night, I did one physical thing – one gesture or move – that was quintessential character. It helped me tune out all the backstage antics and focus on the task at hand. For me, it was a figure-eight hip roll. It’s all about the hips.

The third step was to try something new. 

Full disclosure: Never change a cue line or directed movement, but I think the moments in between are fair game. An extra flick of the wrist, emphasizing a different tone, it may fail horribly but at least it’s something. Thinking about the in between moments is an excellent way to keep your mind on your work. 

More often than not, I found myself thinking about something random while on stage; my to-do list, my grocery list, what so-and-so said at work today. I had to put myself in a situation where I had no choice but to be attentive. Every day, I looked at the script and worked through the movement and I found something new. I found a different way she might say this line or present this action and it kept me focused on the show which is the number one thing. Focus.

The best advice I think I can give is something that’s been passed around as common knowledge: remember your audience. Even if this is your hundredth performance, the people in those seats are seeing this story unfold for the first time. Do what you have to do to keep it new for you but never forget who’s out there watching the show. Keep your relationship strong; for them