Where are you coming from? – an acting guide to understanding your character

Where are you coming from_550
Photo Credit: marc falardeau via cc
We are delighted to republish Prof. John Palmer’s ‘Theatre Briefs’ series, Actor Hub hope you find them as useful as we have.
This series of short essays about acting is reprinted with the kind permission of Professor John P Palmer of London, Ontario, Canada. He wrote these ‘Theatre Briefs’ for use by students and fellow actors during classes and rehearsals. Where he has relied on material from others, they are cited.
To act your character, you must try to understand your character.
Acting, even in a melodrama, must be more than just memorizing lines and remembering blocking, (although these things are important). It is certainly more than showing off for the audience, mugging, and flailing about (although these things can sometimes be fun, and despite what I sometimes seem to be asking for during rehearsals!).
To act your character, you must try to understand your character.
Before your next rehearsal, explore what happens to your character when that person is NOT on the stage:
Ask yourself, when you are entering a scene, where you are coming from.
And the answer should not be, “backstage!”
Every character is living his/her life (within the continuity of the play) when s/he is not on stage as well as when s/he is on. So –
  • Where are you coming from?
  • What were you just doing?
  • What were you doing five minutes before you entered?
  • What were you doing an hour ago?
  • How do you feel (angry, upset, nervous, happy?) and why?
  • What caused you to feel that way?
  • Why are you entering?
  • Why are you entering now and not earlier or later?
  • What did you hope to accomplish by entering the room?
  • What do you expect to find when you walk into the room?
  • What happened to you (the character) between the last time you were on stage and this time?
it’s great fun to explore the possibilities of the moment before –

and the moment before that!
Now try this:
What if your character had just had a fight with his or her spouse/partner/child/parent just five minutes before coming on stage (even though this fight is not in the script and plays no role in the plot)?
How would that affect what you do when you enter?
Since often the answers are not in the play itself, it’s great fun to explore the possibilities of “the moment before” – and the moment before that!
And it does amazing things for your acting!
Based on work by Arlene Schulman
These essays may be reproduced at no charge for non-commercial purposes. Just please acknowledge the original source (John Palmer) and his blog Eclectecon.
Also please retain the attributions included in the briefs.
You may not use these resources for commercial purposes.