Having Character

I’ve begun rehearsals for a comedy, ‘Til Beth do us Part, in which I play Beth, a southern belle from hell. It’s actually a silly plot, but the character is closer to my acting instincts than a role in a musical. Still, I love those, too–but dramas are my favorite because they are the least fictional.

To be an actor, you must be enamored with the part you play to make it seem natural on stage. That’s why rehearsals are intense; we are learning not just to act like, but to be the character. When actor mistakes happen in live theatre, we must cover them in character; that is, as if we are the same individual who made the mistake, not the actor feeling embarrassed that he did.

In our own lives, we are the lead; either hero, heroine or protagonist, if you like. Things we try, problems we solve, successes we achieve, all change and mold us, just as they do an actor in a play. “All the world’s a stage” to William Shakespeare and to us, because we have no choice but to act. From our first to our last breath, we are in a very long story, and its quality is determined by the consistency of our character.

In telling a life story, we may not cover all the phases of Shakespeare’s poem. (Doing so may make it as long as his complete works.) But we must study the life almost as if we are preparing to interpret a character on stage: deeply, with serious intent, and honestly, so that the reader, just like the viewer of a play, sees a believable portrayal of a person whose story has universal appeal. In other words, a story must examine the human condition or life’s events so well that it speaks to all of us. Authenticity is the challenge of the actor as well as the life writer. To strive for anything but depth, truth and trust in our readers misses the opportunity to inspire the same in others.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare

Janette Dennis



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