Why We Create Characters

By Randall | Improv Tips
26 Jun 2012

I’ve seen two main approaches to characters in improv scenes: playing characters that are just slightly different versions of ourselves (“Excited Randall” or “Despondent Randall” or “Sensual Randall”), or playing characters that are physically and vocally distinct from ourselves. The latter are generally more memorable, but can often devolve into caricatures that are difficult for other improvisers to relate to and connect with. So in thinking about which types of characters I want to play, I started contemplating why we use characters in improv at all.

Improv comedy is first and foremost about telling stories, and at the heart of these stories is a relationship. Or several relationships, in a longform set. When we are starting out as new improvisers, everything is new and exciting! Even a mediocre scene is enthralling simply because we can feel the rush of running into the unknown and blazing the trail as we go. We are told that, because of our unique series of life experiences, we are each funny and can create vibrantly unique scenes. But what happens when the initial shock of fear chasing wears off, we settle into a newly defined comfort zone, and we start creating “stereotyped characters” interacting in “hackneyed situations”? That is when we need to start reaching beyond ourselves to find new perspectives to explore.

When you utilize different characters, it is easier to internalize different world views, allowing your character to react differently from how you, the improviser, would. These reactions are not non-sensical, or “original,” but rather grounded and consistent with the character you are playing, in the reality in which they exist. This provides variety in the show, along with the opportunity to explore different thematic elements in a deeper, richer way. Although it is possible to do this without creating vibrant, distinctive characters, they are just a tool to help realign your consciousness. They also help keep the experience fresh and fun for you, encouraging a sense of play that is infectious to any audience.

In my next post, I’ll talk about a simple technique to create a veritable menagerie of characters.

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  1. I love the phrase “realign your consciousness”–I really feel like I’m in one of those phases after a long period of feeling like I’ve just been hiding and going through the motions of life. For me, there is a lot of beauty in the fact that is that it’s possible to realign your consciousness without the need for drugs or stimulants–not that that is bad for everyone, but it’s important to me that I don’t rely on outside stimulants that come in a package.

  2. mammola says:

    O man, I look forward to getting to the point where improvising is no longer fearful… it’s tough at this point to imagine the “fear chasing” energy-boost wearing off, but I guess that’s bound to happen eventually.

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