The truth is out there or An actors guide to people watching

An actors guide to people watching for characterisation
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Once your formal training as an actor ends, I think some other really valuable training can begin. Whilst at drama school your world has probably been overtaken with actors, directors, tutors, and other creatives buzzing around the building. Its so easy to eat, sleep, and breathe the drama school atmosphere and it will have been an amazing time, you will have learnt so much and come armed and equipped into the business with skills which set you apart from others.
One of the ways I think I gain fodder for characters is by watching people.
Edie Falco Actor
But how many plays are there about drama schools, how many films and tv programmes deal with putting on a play, or learning acting techniques …. not many. Theatre, film and TV deal with real life, with everyday and extraordinary people from everyday and extraordinary lives. Once your ‘real life’ begins, it is time for you to start noticing how ‘real people’ behave.
In order to create believable characters you need to be able to tune into the world around you, you need to observe what is happening around you, and make notes on how people deal with everything that life throws at them. The world is full of inspiration if you stop and open your eyes to it.
Gamache’s job was to collect the evidence, but also to collect the emotions. To watch and listen. To pay attention.
Louise Penny A Fatal Grace
People watching is one of the easiest and most fun activities you can do. I do it everywhere. On the bus, on the train, when I am temping, when I am shopping. Observing how different people behave is the essence of what we as actors do. We present behaviour. So fill your mind with behaviour which might seem alien to you. Observe how others behave, how others treat each other. Even the person who seems the most different from you is worth observing because from everyone you will be able to steal habits, ways of moving, ways of speaking. Everything and anything is worth watching. If I have an hour to spare before a casting, I buy a cup of coffee and settle down on one of those stools in a coffee shop window and spend the time observing everyone else and making some notes.
A top tip for actors is to start people watching and write down what you see
I take a notepad with me wherever I go. It is the best way for me to keep a record of the people I experience and the behaviours I meet. When you meet a stranger or encounter a new way of behaving, make a note of it. Draw little ‘aide memoirs’ to remember how the person walked, sat, held themselves. When you notice people reacting and communicating with each other in a way which interests you, make a note of it. Revisit your notes at the end of the day whilst your encounters are fresh and make sure your scribblings are understandable. These encounters will enrich your experiences and characterisations. The very fact that you have your notebook with you will keep your ears and eyes are open, and keep you tuned into the world around you.
Television nowadays is full of ‘reality television’. These programmes might be stopping TV companies investing money in new drama, but they are here to stay …. so USE them. Watch them and observe the attitudes and behaviours of folk from different ways of life to your own. Make notes. Watch the news and really try and examine human behaviour in all of its extremes. Gypsy Weddings may be an extreme and almost caricatured look at a culture, but from it really try and see the people behind the stories, watch the habits and ticks of everyday people in not so everyday situations and make notes, copy and mimic anything, so you have a physical experience. Life is full of behaviours, so start using it.
I just want to go through Central Park and watch folks passing by. Spend the whole day watching people. I miss that.
Barack Obama
From my scribblings, drawings, and notes I like to create stories. I am not the greatest writer in the world, but by taking what I have observed and weaving it into a story, I am tapping into my creativity. I am doing what every good actor does, I am taking from the world and with some creative magic, I am making a fiction. When you boil it down to it’s bare bones acting is storytelling, and practising creating stories is a skill which will keep your mind sharp and keen and keep your creative juices flowing. When you start to write stories, you will start to notice stories all around you. When you open your mind to creativity, you will surprised at what you can achieve.
I know that once you start to follow these simple guidelines, you will begin to have a lot of fun. You will also see the results in your acting. If you cultivate characters from only your own experiences and behaviours, the performance can only be skin deep. If you are able to weave your own experiences with those of someone else, you are able to take someone else’s way of dealing with situations and emotions and make them your own you will be on the way to creating a fully rounded character.