[Your] questions about character analysis prompted me to think that I could
write you this short note for clarification.
No, I do not require you to do a character analysis. It is not part of
your grade. I hope you saw today how valuable and informative a character
analysis can be, and I hope you'll want to do some analysis for yourself; but
the reason I don't require you to do it is that I want you to realize
that the only reason to do it is because it has a direct and profound
impact on your stage performance. The stuff that is graded in this class
(learning lines and showing up), that's what's absolutely necessary no matter
what, so I don't care about why as long as you do it-- but writing a supposed
"character analysis" for any reason other than to help yourself in your own
performance is useless, frustrating, and a total waste of everyone's time. So I
leave it up to you.
If you're wondering how to approach character analysis, here's the two basic
1. Script --> Biography
2. Biography --> Script.
1. Script to Biography:
Look at your lines and ask yourself "Now what would make me say/do that?" Come up with an answer ("I had a pet chicken once who was killed in a freak nesting accident") and, when you perform, let that fact create your response to the impulse. (This is what we did today.)
2. Biography to Script:
Invent information about your character, and about his/her history with the other characters; then, when you run your scenes, find out if that information affects your conversation.
I can give you an example of #2 (bio to script) from a show I did some years
ago. I was playing a man who had been totally paralyzed in an accident; the
story of the play was my winning a court order to be "unplugged" and allowed to
die. While I was inventing my character's personal history, I wondered what my
birthdate could be... and then it occurred to me that the script said how
long ago the accident occurred, but nothing about how. I realized
that if my birthdate were that long ago, then that explained the accident-- I
had drunk too much at my own birthday party and driven off the road! This entire
miserable situation, trapped in a hospital bed in a ruined body, was my own damn
stupid fault! Throughout the play, then, I found all kinds of impulses which
reminded me that I had done this to myself, and I received each impulse as a
jolt of anger and shame; furthermore, I realized that a huge part of my
motivation to suicide was that I was punishing myself for being such a stupid
idiot. It was a massive boost to my performance, and all I'd been doing was
deciding my character's birthdate.
HOW I CAN HELP #1: You probably noticed today that some biographical ideas
will give you "more" than do others; once I see what your ideas are and how
you're approaching your character, I can help you recognize which ones aren't
giving you very much, and to show you how to manipulate them so that they give
HOW I CAN HELP #2: You might have ideas about your character's personal
history but might not be sure how they could affect the impulses you're
receiving on stage. I may be able to help you make some direct connections
between the impulses and the information you invent.
[the assistant director] pointed out to me, after class was done, that your personal history
doesn't have to be some kind of complete story or autobiography-- nobody except
you is going to read it, know it, or even care about it. All that really matters
is that what you do come up with can have a direct effect on what happens on
stage. That, everyone will see.
So like I said-- you don't have to do a character analysis, and I won't require it, but the more analysis you do, the richer and fuller your performance can become.