Characterization is achieved through gesture, speech, and movement, using the actor’s entire instrument. In a word characterization is transformation. At the moment of action, the actor should be able to transform himself into another person or being by getting rid of his own ego and completely identifying himself with his character so as to have the same reactions as him.
This characterization must not be confused with acting itself, which is the art of interpreting a character.
Acting is the result of characterization, but it cannot be considered characterization itself because one can act without transforming oneself into someone else.
In fact, characterization gives actors the possibility to bring their own interpretation of a character from a text and to give their performance a personal touch.
Authentic: The transformation should seem natural, unconscious, and instinctive. The audience must believe that everything is coming from the heart of the character; otherwise, it is considered simulation or imitation, which is not acting at all.
Visual: Using one’s whole body and not only the face. The actor must create a particular image in order to make it memorable; his goal is to make the character familiar.
The characterization should be both authentic and visual because these are what characterize an actor. If characterization is displayed with authenticity, this means that the characterization was honest, sincere, and done without any reservation.
If characterization is displayed visually, this means that characterization was done in an artistic way using the whole body (not only the face).
This characterization must be achieved through research and analysis of the text in order to understand not only the character but also the personality, social status, age, gender, temperament, moods… This research will also allow the actor to be more familiar with his role and make characterization more realistic.
Characterization is not only achieved through research of the text but also by observation of other actors playing parallel characters (e.g. family members).
In the play “The Cherry Orchard,” by Anton Chekhov, Madame Ranevskaya is a rich society woman who has just inherited an estate. Her characterization was displayed with authenticity and visuality:
Authenticity: Through the research of the text to understand not only the character but also its personality, social status, age, gender, temperament.
Visuality: A visible Transformation is required to make a characterization of someone. In this play Ligovskaya says to Ranevskaya:
Madame Ranevskaya! You’ve been to Paris? I suppose you know all the smart sets there?
Madame Ranevskaya replies:
I know them. I know them very well. I’m not like you, I don’t make fun of people because they’re smart and rich–on the contrary! (Act 1)
This characterization was displayed visually through gestures, speech, and movement that give Madame Ranevskaya power and grace.
The gesture is necessary for characterization because it can show how a character communicates or what their personality is like. Speech is also important because verbal characterization can show how a character speaks, including dialects and accents.
Movement characterization should include how the body moves which will define what type of characterization they are. For example, if someone walks with their feet pointed straight ahead to the front, they are likely to be confident and serious whereas someone who has poor posture or curves their spine downward might be insecure or sad.
Archetypes in characterization can help actors get to know their characters before they even set foot on stage. Unlike traditional methods of characterization that focus on the character’s history or personality. This technique explores the symbolic qualities of the character that makes him unique and interesting to watch.
To be clear, characterization in acting is the act of posing as a specific character. To be able to do this effectively, an actor has to transform into that character.
They have to use their whole body and not only their face, they have to make that characterization seem natural, instinctive, and unconscious. Characterization is about more than just how someone speaks or dresses- it is about transforming into that person.
– Visual: sing one’s whole body and not only the face. The actor must create a particular image in order to make it memorable; his goal is to make the character familiar.
– Authentic: The transformation should seem natural, unconscious, and instinctive.
– Psychological: An actor does not simply copy a character’s actions but transforms himself into another person. The transformation is guided by an internal impulse, perhaps unconsciously or intuitively sensed from the outset.
– Physical Action: This is most important for older characters. There is a big difference between a young and an old man when walking, for example.
– Use of Space: It can be very important in characterization to know how a character uses the entire stage.
– Speech: The use of language is completely different depending on gender and age group. For example, a young boy’s speech differs from that of an old man because there are different social roles in that gender.
– Make-up: In film and television it is the most important element to create a characterization. It is also very popular in theatre. In cinematography, details such as stains on clothes and slight imperfections can be very useful in adding to the build of a character.
– Dress/ Costume: What we wear has great importance in creating a characterization. The clothes we choose for ourselves, the way we dress, and the make-up we use all reveal something about who we are. (The choice of clothing is also important to know whether it may be right or wrong in characterizing.)
There are many ways to create an effective characterization, but one that is particularly helpful in creating interesting characters is the use of Archetypes. An archetype is defined as a person, character, or entity that has symbolic, universal meaning within a culture.
For instance, Jesus Christ would be an archetype of great importance to Christians and Muslims alike, while “the good-looking guy” or “the bad-boy” might be archetypes to some young women.
Jesus Christ is an archetype of the Messiah, while the ‘good looking guy’ and ‘bad boy’ are each examples of their own particular archetype.
– Relationship. This is the actor’s relationship with the imaginary “other” on stage, an element of illusionary suggestion.
– Senses and Feelings of the Character. This is not only how the actor feels but also what kind of feeling he creates through his acting. Emotions are often indicated because of muscle tension in the body,
– Motivation, Intention, and Objective. This can be defined as the reasons or causes which give birth to an emotion or feeling, and also the kind of energy that must be present in order to create a particular feeling.
– Psychological State of Being: It is an expression of mentality, personality, and character in behavior, action, or gesture.
1. Create an identity statement- This is a one-sentence description of your character that places him or her in a specific category. You might say, for example: “I am the great [insert name], [insert occupation].” In this way, you fit your character into a larger community of people who have played similar roles before.
2. Create an image statement- taking the idea one step further, now include some visuals. For example, “What does the great [insert name] look like? What are his or her physical characteristics? Does he or she always carry a sword and shield?”
3. Create a list of 5 adjectives- Listing adjectives that best describe your character helps you get started and provides some inspiration for developing him or her. Here are some examples: funny, smart, handsome/beautiful, outgoing, flirtatious.
4. Create a list of “how” statements- These are descriptions of your character’s behavior (rather than appearance) that explain how he or she reacts to situations in the play. Here are some examples: How does the great [insert name] react when other characters are being rude? How does the great [insert name] react when others are making fun of him/her?
5. Create a list of “what” statements- These are descriptions that tell you what your character wants in the play. Here are some examples: What does the great [insert name] want from the other characters? What does the great [insert name] want from his/her life?
6. Create a list of “why” statements- Just as with “what” statements, this is a great way to describe your character’s motives. Here are some examples: Why does the great [insert name] want what he/she wants? Why do they need those things?
7. Create a list of “where” statements- Just as with “what” and “why” statements, this is a great way to describe your character’s motives. Here are some examples: Where does the great [insert name] want what he/she wants? Where do they need those things?
8. Create a list of “when” statements- Once you have all of your character’s motives, needs and desires figured out, it is helpful to know when they occur. Here are some examples: When does the great [insert name] want what he/she wants? When do they need those things?
9. Creating a list of “who” statements-This is where you return to the original identity statement. Here is an example: Who am I?
The use of Archetypes in characterization can help actors get to know their characters before they even set foot on stage.
Unlike traditional methods of characterization that focus on the character’s history or personality, this technique explores the symbolic qualities of the character that makes him unique and interesting to watch.
The goal for an actor when creating a characterization is to unite all of these elements, which gives birth to his acting. The result would be that the spectator is taken in and feels all the same things as the actor on stage, believing that the characterization is real.
Now that you have a foundation for creating a character, take a great online acting class with Mel Shapiro!
Take Characterization and Performance with Mel Shapiro to learn more valuable insights and techniques to create a compelling character for the audition and the job. The possibilities are endless with this master teacher!
Best experience ever!! Mr. Jeremiah is hands down THE BEST professor I have EVER come across! My daughter learned SO MUCH during the course and so did I! We REALLY enjoyed EVERY week! Thank you so much for your time and effort!
Transformative acting is the act of posing as a specific character. The characterization can be achieved through gesture, speech, and movement, using the actor’s entire instrument. A characterization must be physical, authentic, and key to the story.
Jeremiah O’Brian is a faculty member at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. His exceptionally diverse background – from gritty nuts-and-bolts firefighting to film and theatre credits and accolades – is bolstered by his several graduate degrees.