By Brian Smith Walters
A crucial, yet often overlooked, portion of learning a new role is how that character moves and acts. In college, we are taught to prepare roles with the music/singing, the words/translation, and the dramatic intentions/Stanislavski method. Of course, these are keys portions to the learning process, but we often forget to work on how that character moves. It is the first thing an audience sees, and it can be another useful ‘in’ to the role.
Four areas to consider:
Walk – When trying to figure out a character’s walk, ask yourself: ‘where does he/she fit into society? Does she lift her chin when walking into a room or stare demurely at the floor? Is his chest puffed or would he be meek?’ Once you can answer these questions, move around when singing some of the role. I would suggest starting with a portion of recit or dialogue with another character rather than an aria. Be brave in your physical expressions and see what comes of it.
Posture – Of course, we all need good posture to sing, but this can be tempered to fit the character. Mimi and Elektra would have different postures, as would Otello and Ferrando. To find your character’s posture, ask yourself the same questions listed above. It’s best to try out different physical positions to see which feels most true and correct to you. For this, singing sections of an aria would be perfect.
Clothing – To have a rehearsal skirt or character heels is something often required in staging rehearsals, yet we can forget this in our early preparation. If you can find some representative clothing, it might help you get straight into character. When I was learning Peter Grimes, I found it was easier to get into character when I wore a rain jacket. Having the jacket on helped me feel closer to his fisherman persona. While I’m not saying you need to have a special item of clothing in each practice session, it might be useful to occasionally practice the Countess’s arias in a skirt and heels rather than shorts and flip-flops.
Sitting/kneeling/lying down – With a few exceptions, we tend to do singing lessons and coachings standing up. But there are many times for which something else might be called: a bed-ridden Violetta in Act 3 of Traviata, Tatyana’s letter scene in Onegin, and incarcerated Cavaradossi writing to his beloved Tosca, just to give a few examples. Instead of waiting to see if the director actually wants you to sit at a writing desk to write to Eugene, use the time in the practice room to get you further into what the character is feeling whilst physically doing the needed action. Then dazzle the director with your level of preparedness!
Bring this interesting and important portion of role learning into your early preparations and see how much it can help get you further into character!