Creating Transformative Characters
with John Markland, in New York City
I believe your craft of acting is a means of artistic and personal evolution and catharsis. The process by which you build and then act your character has an innate quality of healing. The method I describe here is an exploration of this healing process. Personalizing and sharing so that the cathartic effect is offered within the art... the play. I think we do this as children and then forget how much we helped each other heal through play. We must have emotional movement or acting becomes still life... stagnant. Molecules have the greatest change in energy when they transform from one state to another boiling, burning, freezing, exploding. When we emotionally transform from one state to another we resonate with the greatest effect. When this transformation is shared through a character, it pulls us into the story, so we, the audience, are immersed... connected, and rooting for ourselves.
Locating The Wound
Hamlet, George and Martha, Austin and Lee, the entire Loman family, Angel and Mary Jane, Blanche, Stanley and Stella share something in common with every character ever written, they all have wounds. A father killed, a loveless marriage, sibling rivalry, a delusion sold as truth, the injustice of circumstance and so on and so forth. These conflicts and dynamics are often the expression of more intimate and personal wound specific to each character. This is what we will be searching for... the intimate wound. Lucky for us, it is art, so it is also up for interpretation. Meaning, your choice of wound is not right or wrong, but you will want to locate the wound that is most effective for building on and around.
Personalizing The Wound
We will also explore those things that have wounded us through out our lives. These can range from the simplest of things, being chosen last for a team or left of a birthday invite list to those deeper, and darker realms of neglect, betrayal, sabotage and abuse. We are not ranking these nor are we judging them. They are simply the beginning of this process we will call, locating and personalizing the wound.
One that can parallel or reflect that of the one in the character you are bringing to life. It does not have to match exactly, but if you a Danish Prince whose father has been killed by your uncle so that he may take bed with your mother then please use it. I would suggest using a wound of betrayal in the case of Hamlet. A sense of being betrayed by a significant person of trust. You can also use the reverse of this which is the wound left within you after having betrayed someone who trusted you.
Expressing the Wound
The wounds we carry have an almost infinite array of expression but lucky for us, we are creatures of habit with fewer primary expressions. These are the ones that act as emotional cues amongst us, Homo Sapiens. Here are just a few interpretations of physical expressions to start the ball rolling...
Gritted teeth is tension; as in going over the edge of a roller coaster or about to hear your sentencing in court, or professing your love and awaiting the response, restraining expression of vulnerability... holding back tears.
Sighing is release; as in after a car misses a pedestrian or your angry lover comes home, you decide to take responsibility and tell the truth, you let the argument go, you surrender to the feelings about to be exposed... letting the tears fall.
Biting lip is restraint; as in hearing the scream of another’s pain, grabbing the “FUCK” before it leaves the lip, quieting the urge to groan in pleasure or pain, the tease of flesh, the futile attempt to stop a choice.
Pulling your hair is tension; as in frustrated there is no answer, enraged you couldn’t control yourself, worried they have not come home, vain struggle to soothe the inevitable, regret that you let them go.
Limping is vulnerable; as in you are injured, “fell of your horse”, lost your job, lover, integrity or anything that helps you stand tall, calling for help... someone or thing to lean on, not believing in yourself fully (one foot in), carrying too much, over- burdened on one side.
Wincing and Tics is doubt; as in anticipating harshness and it is not, distrust of your choices or words, suspicion of what she just said, uncertainty of his grip, mistrust of driver, feeling scrutinized, ashamed of what you are or have done.
Voice is exposing; so, we contort and manipulate and judge and love and shape and hide and expel and chameleon our inner most selves through our voice. Trauma at younger ages often “bubble” the child, capturing their voice in time, talking fast to be heard before dismissed, speaking quiet to not get attention, singing your speak to heighten your expression, stuttering your speech with self-doubt, loudly pronouncing your ego, accentuating your enunciation to be clearly understood, etc. etc.
Material: To Be Assigned and emailed three weeks prior to start of workshop. Auditing actors will be asked to partake in the personalization work but will not be putting up scenes. (30 Working Actors. 6 Auditing.)
Rehearsal: You are expected to be fully off-book and ready to perform with appropriate wardrobe, accents, props prior to the start of workshop and to re-work private moments and scenes from teacher notes in off days.
Day 1 (10am – 6pm)
-Introduction to Wound Work, personalization and transformative choice.
I will discuss how these methods allow one’s own life and history to play an integral part in the process of building character and in the larger sense of understanding your own emotional movement.
-Brief bodywork exercise/breathing exercise.
We will explore the body through somatic exercises focusing on breath, vocalization, movement, contact and stillness. We do this to awaken and develop the soma, or the thinking body. It is difficult to develop higher states of consciousness without bodily feedback. Consciousness is transformed by allowing “proprioception” - your body's self-perception - more attention. Your body is your acting instrument.
When you are aware of your breath you are aware of your awareness or what is more commonly described as “being present.” We will perform some very simple breathing awareness exercises to increase our sense of being present and connected. This practice, repeated daily, can bring you into closer connection with your thoughts and feelings.
Using simple visualization techniques, we will explore how to activate our imaginations. Creating the given circumstances or being relaxed on stage/set is achieved by accepting the truthfulness of what you imagine. So, we will perform object, action, place, time and relationship visualizations that we can explore through sensory work. This enables us to bridge
the space between “make believe” and “reality”. If expression of imagination is the life of acting, then imagination is the heart. If we believe they believe.
As much as you are comfortable with, we’ll discuss the prior days journaling and find ways to integrate what was discovered (written) into the character and scene. I’ll explain dream work and how performed it may generate similar results to the imagination exercises.
-Private Moments (Wounds).
We will run the private moments, take notes and make adjustments in some instances we may run the scene again. After each scene, I will offer Journaling questions aimed at incorporating experiences and relationships from your life to provoke emotional context of the character’s life.
- 2pm Lunch. (1 hour.)
- Private Moments Continue
- Wrap up 6pm.
We will follow a similar line of work as Day 1 but in a slightly abbreviated way. Touching up a slightly different meditation.
Journaling will be used through the workshop but specifically Day 2 is for Group B.
- Private Moments (Transformed.)
We will run the private moments, take notes and make adjustments in some instances we may run the scene again. After each private moment, I will offer questions and guidance aimed at incorporating these experiences and relationships from your life into that of the character’s.
- Private Moments continue. - Wrap up 6pm.
Day 3 Day 4
Day three and four will follow the same schedule as day two but we will be doing the scenes. Day three will be an exploration of immersing the wound approach into the characters and the emotional context of the scene and day four will be finding the nuance of this approach and how to experience rather than perform.
-Body/Breath work. -Group Sensory Work - Scenes.
2pm Lunch. (1 hour)
- Scenes continue. - Wrap up 6pm.
-Body/Breath work. - Group Sensory Work
2pm Lunch. (1 hour)
- Scenes continue. - Wrap up 6pm.
As actors, we have a responsibility to our craft and in such, an obligation to our self- growth, awareness and evolution. Searching for the new and pushing into the unexplored expands our connectedness and thus enriches our ability to empathize and express. How relatable we are beats at the core of our relationship with an audience. The more shoes we walk in, skins we inhabit, relationships we live through the more relatable our presence becomes.
This will be a tight ship! Sixteen plays with your scene going up twice, with a day in between for re-working. The sooner you register the sooner you are assigned a play
and partner. I’ll be approaching these scenes the same way I do when coaching, so there will be personalization, journaling and in-depth inspection directed at creating a WHOLE life – what is hidden is, as important as what is expressed.