A new character exercise to help people go beyond default characters

A new character exercise

We conjured up this new character exercise at last weekend’s character workshop at Hoopla.

A couple of the improvisers were asking about how to go beyond their default characters. They felt they had a habit of playing the same go-to characters in improv shows and workshops.

We pointed out that there was nothing wrong with their default characters, and they were still welcome, but came up with the following exercise to help them find other characters.

  1. Two improvisers on stage.
  2. They declare to the audience what their default  character is, for example “I play this weird little hunchback goblin dude”.
  3. They then tell the audience their three tips of how to play that character if someone else was to do it. For example “be low status with crazy hunched physical change, have a voice that goes all over, be anxious and nervey”.
  4. The audience then decide on an opposite behaviour for each one of the three points, for example “be high status and upright, have a steady smooth voice, be confident and in control”.
    5. The new three behaviours become the new character.
  5. Three audience members are helpers, and are in charge of one behaviour each.
  6. The original improviser now plays a scenes in their new character, if they ever need more of a new behaviour the audience buddies calmy say “more high status”, “more upright”, “be confident” etc.

It had the effect of putting people into a new character they hadn’t been on stage before.

Another thing that popped up is improvisers said when they were playing default characters they felt like they were actually thinking as themselves in the scene, but with the new character the character was doing all the work and they found themselves responding as character rather than them pretending to be a character.

This suggests one reason people get stuck in default characters is it keeps them safe and in control. But playing a new character means more focus and is more thrilling, as we don’t know where they will take us.

I think default characters also come out of habit. We receive the cue “we’re doing an improv scene” and it triggers the process that we may have received warm feedback for before “do weird little hunchback goblin dude” and before we know it all improv feels the same.

Just to clarify, I do like weird little goblin dude characters and we can keep our default characters to still come out every now and then!

Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK.

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