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Using Theater to Develope Character

Acting and writing are close companions and some believe they go hand and hand. Creative writing seems to have a strong presence in the theater.

The ancient Greeks and Romans gave us comedy, tragedy and satyr. The medieval centuries produced liturgical and passion plays and they were later refined in the renaissance and restoration periods. The nineteenth century saw advancements in melodrama and romanticism. The twentieth century improved realism and naturalism.

Nearly every culture has a theatrical style used for religious rituals and/or entertainment. The West Africans have Egungun masquerades. In Asia, there are Kathakali, Xiangsheng and Bunraku. The Middle East developed Puppet Theater and Ta’ziya and in the early 1950’s Europe embraced Theatre de l’Absurde.

Yet, something else progressed in all of this: character development.
Personalities are complex. Those complexities must surface when developing characters or they will suffer as stick figures to your readers. They won’t have any depth to intrigue and hold up the story they are placed in.
I enjoy studying characters and the theater gives me a good way to work some of them out, either as an observer or a participant.

I realize this may not be suitable for every writer but think of it this way. In role playing, I am able to more fully embrace the persona of an evil old woman who lives out in the woods and eats children without actually becoming that malevolent being.

I can bring forth to the reader an awareness of her world, as in the pain in the old woman’s back and her side and knees because she’s bent over from osteoporosis or her limited vision because of the curve in her back may be the main reason she preys on children; she can see them. The reader would understand why the items in the old woman’s house are so condensed and explain the low light.

The writer should recognize the woman’s viewpoint and how it relates to her actions. Yes, these observations humanize the villainous hag because she is actually a human being who has gone wrong.

A theatrical role can give the writer an opportunity to experiment in order to tap into first-hand knowledge of character traits they may not have understood before. Maybe, you get a role of a dog who tries to capture a human’s attention, who just wants the mutt to stop barking. Can you imagine how frustrating that is for the dog?

Studying the people around you from afar is good but embracing a character intimately by acting is a more complete and enlightening experience.
It is not unusual for me to partially act out a scene that surfaced in my mind. A phrase or emotion sometimes slips out. Yes, my neighbors consider it odd but that to me is part of my art.

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