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@The Arts Unit Art Bites – Characterisation – 07. Exploring characters

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JANE SIMMONS: Hi, everyone. I'm Jane Simmons from The Arts Unit, the Drama Performance Officer for the Department of Education. How are you going with our characterisation series? Have you created lots of magnificent characters and discovered new ways to be inspired to devise characters and learned new terms you can use in discussion and written analysis?

I'm going to let you in on a secret about our 12 part series. In the very last episode, I'm going to give you a teeny weeny quiz to see what you've learned. I promise you'll do OK, and I won't make it too hard. In fact, you'll be begging me for more quizzes, such will be your sense of achievement.

Today we're going to do our last movement sequence in exploring characters before we move into more traditional realism exercises with a focus on Stanislavski. We're going to take our sequences today from French drama practitioner, Jacques Lecoq. Did you just giggle when I said that name? Oh, I think you did.

Well, you're going to hear me say it a whole lot more. So try to contain yourself. Lecoq created his own school of acting in Paris. And what underpinned his theory of performance was a truth in movement. He believed that the body knows things of which the mind is ignorant.

So what does that mean? Well, Lecoq was saying that our body has its own memory and impulses when it comes to movement. For instance, if you touch something hot, the body knows to move your hand away before the synapses in the brain catch up and tell you to move your hand. Body instinct first, brain second.

Or if someone sneaks up on you and scares you, your body will react before your brain has even processed what has happened. Sometimes your face might give away how you feel about information. I know when a person's talking and I'm hearing information that annoys me, my face gives it away. I don't have to tell them what I think. You would think I'd be a better actor and develop what they call a poker face, wouldn't you?

So he is saying that your body has a truthful response. It instinctively knows what to do and how to react. Lecoq was interested in the corporeal world of acting. There's another great word for our drama glossary. Corporeal means physical or related to the body.

He believed that the body and its movement through and in space is the crucial generator of meaning, that the primary means of communication is through the body, rather than the mind. Hmmm. Interesting.

So in other words, to learn first through the physical or the corporeal, and the cerebral second. There's a word for that. It's called somatic learning or physical over intellectual. Quick literacy update.

Cerebral means brain or mind. And somatic means relating to the body. So many beautiful words in the English language. And I am going to tell you that it took me until the age of 30 to discover that a lot was two words, not one.

So language is a journey, my friend. It's like a library full of wonderful books you get to collect as you go.

Jacques Lecoq believed that by reproducing everyday movement students would come to a deeper understanding of the world. He asked his students to observe and analyse rhythms in nature; animals, the elements, colour, objects. Any living form became impetus for inspiration and embodiment.

Remember how in earlier episodes we observed people to create characters? Well, now we're going to use Lecoq's theories to identify with nature and matter to create characters. Appropriately, he called this process identification.

And note. You can do more research on Jacques Lecoq and other movement practitioners who inspired him, like Copeau, Meyerhold, Grotowski, if you discover that this form of characterization is your favourite. That's the beauty of all these different practitioners and practises. You get to explore them and find the ones that resonate for you. There's not just one way or one answer.

So let's begin. Make sure you've got a lot of space to move around in. You can pause and press play whenever you are ready. So I'm going to say a colour. And I want you to move inspired by that colour.

And if you're working in a group, you may want to choose a colour and move and walk identifying as that colour and see if people can guess what colour you are. You'd be surprised how accurately they pick it. As Lecoq said, there is a truth in movement, and we instinctively recognise what we see and interpret.

First colour. Yellow. Can you walk and move like yellow?

How do you identify with it somatically? What's the body doing? Do you feel light or heavy? Free or bound? What's your pace and rhythm? What's the level of tension in your body?

Picture yourself as yellow as you move. Do you feel warm or cold?

I'm pretty sure we'd have the same or similar answers. I think of sunshine when I think of yellow. And that helps me embody the colour.

We recognise yellow when it walks into the room, even though technically yellow doesn't have a movement. It's not a living thing. But we identify its truth and represent that through our understanding of the natural world around us.

If I said to you, I want your character to walk through the door as if they were the colour yellow, you would know what I mean.

Next one. Let's try black. Off you go.

How does black walk and move? There's a heaviness, an authority, a status to black, don't you think? There's a steadiness too, as if black has a clear intention, but doesn't have to rush to achieve it. Which one of those colours felt more powerful as a character to you?

How might those characters react to each other if they were a couple or a teacher and student or a parent and child or best friends? It's a lot of fun to play with these ideas in a scene, colours as characters. You can even take a bit of text or script and try saying it as different colours. And of course, you don't have to stay as the one colour as a character. You might start off as yellow and then something turns you into red or blue. And you might finish as dark green or brown. The options are limitless. You can do an entire scene as all the colours from 'Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat.'

So what I want you to do now is write down 10 colours. So go on, grab a pen and paper and think of 10 colours. You can either pause this and come back to it when you are ready. Or you can do it now while I give you some thinking music. Da, da, da, da, da, da, da. Da, da, da, da, da, da, da.

Yeah. All right. I don't teach music. That's pretty evident. All right.

How'd you go with your colours, though? Do you need a hand? All right. Let's see if I can channel 'Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat.'

All right. Uh, [sigh] It was; so you could do white or lime green or dark green or light blue, brown, purple, orange, red, dark blue, black, yellow, pink, beige, coral, silver, gold, eggshell white. Now I sound like a paint company.

Or it was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and chocolate and gold and lilac and mauve and purple and white and pink and orange and blue! I still remember that from year 6. And it may surprise you. That was a long time ago.

So you've now got a whole list of colours. If you're working in a group, I want everyone to choose a colour and without telling each other, move as that colour for the group. And everybody has to try to guess what it is.

Give each person a moment to walk and move before you try to guess. And if you're doing this home alone, show it to a sibling or a parent. See if you've captured the colour.

Remember, the object of the game is not to trick anyone. It's to make it obvious by finding the truth of that colour in the movement. And you know you've succeeded if people can guess what it is from your showing of it.

Now you can do the same activity with materials. Think of different fabrics and materials. For instance, hessian feels very different from silk. Cotton versus polyester. Satin versus wool. Lycra versus taffeta. Wood versus stainless steel versus leather.

You can do exactly the same exercise using materials instead of colours. And then maybe you can combine them. For instance, if you were the embodiment of a big puffy sleeved mauve taffeta bridesmaid's dress at a party, how might you behave?

All right. That one might be a bit personal because I once was a bridesmaid. And that's exactly what I wore. Oh, how I miss the '80s.

But you get the idea. Materials have their own truth of movement and can easily be used to identify and devise characters. So let's quickly play with that. If we were in a class together, I might bring in samples of these materials for you to feel because that just act of tactile memory and response would inspire you in creating characters.

But I'm not there with you. So instead I'll talk you through the exercise and set you the challenge for when this episode is finished. Ready to move again? Imagine you are silk. Move around the room as if you were at a cocktail party as silk.

How does silk move? Do you feel sophisticated and beautiful? What's your status? High or low?

Do you imagine yourself as a bit of a celebrity? A model? Well, you're silk, darling. So of course. Does that heighten your beauty and status even more if you are red silk?

What if you were wool? That is a tongue twister. Like a green, thick, heavy wool. Same cocktail party, but you feel completely different. You're probably the host. So reliable but burdened with responsibility.

What if you entered that cocktail party as a lycra? Whoa, Mrs. or Mr. Bike Shorts. You certainly know how to make an entrance.

Wander the room as lycra. Look at you walking around. I think I can feel you trying too hard, like one of those gym instructors at the cycle class that only feels satisfied when everybody is sweating and vomiting out their lungs.

What if you are hot pink lycra? Oh. We've just turned up the dial. You've got the idea.

So your final activity for this episode is to combine a material and maybe go and see what you've got in your wardrobe and around the house. Feel your lounge, your table, your clothes. Find a material that appeals to you and use it to identify as a character.

Try it with different colours. For instance, a brown hessian sack, a lime cotton shirt, black leather pants, silver stainless steel, gold and denim jacket. Create a party scene for this character, perhaps interacting with other guests and introducing themselves at a party.

If you're in a group, you can all be at the same party, and you can do this in pairs, or you could do it as solo. It doesn't matter. Remember to show how you enter the space as that character, checking out the snacks and the drinks, walking around assessing the different groups and characters at this party.

If you're all strangers, it might make for an interesting interaction. So give it a bit of time before you introduce dialogue. But you can make lots of emotional sounds before you speak if you like.

Now you can do the same exercise using the elements; earth, air, water, fire, or animals, or any objects at all. That's the beauty of imaginative characterisation, like we said in Episode 1. Anything can be used as a stimulus.

You could be a plastic bucket, a sofa lounge, an e-reader, a Nintendo, a China teapot. Anything at all.

I also encourage you to research and investigate Jacques Lecoq's theories and practise. There's so much we haven't covered that you'll really enjoy.

So off you go. And do your colour walks and plan your party scene. And hopefully I'll see you for our next episode. Good luck, everyone. [music playing]

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