"The Importance of Building a World"

The value of Pre-History
Building a complete world for a character is sometimes an area which actors take for granted and either don't do at all or only half do. The inevitable outcome of this is a very simplistic portrayal of the character.

Why is it that such a small area of research can have such a large effect on a performance? The answer is simple. If people are significantly formed by 'the sum total of the events which have happened to them' (i.e. the things they have done) it seems unlikely that anyone could create a character without having some idea of the most important events in that person's life. It is important to know how they responded to incidents in their past.

This is not "magical method" but merely common sense.

The Important Questions
In building a world (an existence) for a character the most important questions to ask are,

"Has anything like these events ever happened to them before?"

"If so, how did they respond?"

Whether the answer is "yes" or "no" doesn't matter. Either way an enormous number of consequences flow from knowing these facts. If the character has experienced a similar event before, then whether it was a successful or an unsuccessful outcome will significantly affect the current response.

When building a character's world it is important to clearly and affirmatively answer these questions. For example, if the question is asked, "Did he hit her last time?" sometimes the actor's reply is … "He might have!" … or … "Perhaps?" Such a response misses the point for in reality, in the character's life, either he did hit her or he didn't. And the character would know whether he did or he didn't. The actor needs to make a choice. If the actor decides "Yes, he did hit her," then immediately more questions flow from this response. "Was it the first time?" "How hard did he hit her" and "How did he feel afterwards?"

If, on the other hand if the answer is "No," then similarly a number of facts are immediately clear.

So, when building a character's history an answer of "Maybe!" is no use at all.

Clear Choices
This doesn't mean that answers have to be entirely black or white. An acceptable answer could be for example, "He would have hit her but the children came home and therefore he didn't" or "The telephone rang and therefore he didn't."

Other important questions to ask are those which effect the general well-being of the character.

"How much do they like themselves?"

"What are the things they fear the most?"

"What do they hope for the most?"

These questions all contribute to the way the character will hear the next thing which is said to them and will affect the next decision that they make.

Some actors tend not to ask these questions for they feel that nothing they can "act" will come from the answers. And this is true. Answering these questions doesn't provide any material to "act" upon. What it will do is enhance every interactive moment that the character participates in. And creating a truthful and believable interaction should be the goal of every performer.

For the previous Directors Notes "The Value of a Smile" CLICK HERE

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