Channeling Character Development Through Acting
By: Robyn Alezanders
“Write what you know” is a funny, tricky one for horror writers – nevermind the fantastical or supernatural elements we may create for our stories, but what about mundane yet no less sinister characteristics? How do we believably convey terrifying, unsettling thoughts, actions, and behaviors if we’re (hopefully!) not enacting it ourselves? It’ can stifle our passion for the genre….
As one of those writers who’s more of an introverted, quiet type, yet always fancied being in front of people, I recently accomplished the bucket list goal, and personal challenge, of acting. A dream role debut, I played a vampire Vixen/Bride in a community theatre production of Dracula, one of four women who were nameless, but each portraying a distinct persona: a classic looking pale “ballerina” (she did a creepy dance around a sleeping Jonathan Harker); a royal beauty (voluminous curls and a hint of glitzy makeup); an assertive femme fatale with white eyes and blotchy decomposing skin; and me – a “bloodhound,” with yellow wolf eyes, and flaming red hair to match the blood all over my dress, neck, hands, and mouth. Simply by appearance, I was the most feral, vicious of the group, the one that exudes the monstrous side of vampires, alongside the vixens’ simmering sensuality.
I had had a notion about theatre that people were simply assigned roles, and just went right into rehearsal. But, pleasantly, surprisingly, we spent quite a bit of time analyzing characters, together and individually, our own and who others were portraying. And even as rehearsals progressed and it seemed as if we all understood our characters, we still continued to discuss and theorize motivations, histories, and intentions. It became a fascinating psycho-analytical foray that inspired and excited me to hear what everyone thought regarding their roles and how they interacted with and affected others. Adding to the intrigue was that we had to stay in context to the time period, and apply insight (social conformities, expectations, mannerisms, etc.) as it pertained to late 1800s’ Europe- that alone was a terrific exercise in character development!
The big scene for my Vixen occurred near the end of and closed out Act 1. The four Brides seductively descend upon Harker, until Dracula interrupts our frenzy before we can indulge our bloodlust. Two Vixens scurry off, while I and another have our hunger pacified with a baby that the good Count has nabbed. It’s a jolting sequence that encompasses pack mentality, hunting prey, anger, impatience, and the one-two sucker punch combination of sexual desire and the need to kill and eat. I had to get into the mindset of a creature driven by hunger – licking, touching, cooing at, and trying to hold down our coveted snack, then defiantly hissing at Dracula and imploring him to give us something, then ravenously tearing apart and eating a “live” infant (cut up doll, crying sound effects, and edible “bloody guts”) sleeping in a picnic basket.
How did I thus do it? At first I had considered method acting, but cast mates suggested not to, so that I didn’t miss out on the fun camaraderie that everyone indulged in between scenes. So while I joked and gossiped and took photos while awaiting direction or discussion, I also created a specific trigger – a playlist akin to what I typically do when writing, compiling songs that evoked deadly yet alluring vampiresses. I avoided softer music the days of performances and added my own distinctive details to my portrayal – sniffing the air like a predator would, and giggling “all mine!”as I skipped away with the basket of baby. I exerted more purpose into the way I possessively caressed Harker, and how I held onto Dr. Van Helsing (during a fight scene between Vixens and the male heroes), and tried intimidating him into submission (until he broke the spell and “stabbed” me into scuttling off.) As rehearsals got closer to performances, I found myself settling into character much more, and with each stage presence, became stronger, more confident, more real in portrayal.
You can break from writing, edit, and redo sentences. With theatre, you have to be and stay in the moment, and go with however the flow of the scene dictates. Delving deeper into my psych, as I had never before, eliciting a newer energy vibration, and awakening another jigsaw piece to who I am is how I channeled introspection into a different art medium. Literally stepping into a physical role, rather than just through words, has elevated my comprehension. Actively working on being a scary woman for the last four months, a character who’s meant to terrify, to attract while simultaneously repulse, has taught me how to better craft one in a story. I learned how to truly transform myself into someone who represents an iconic staple in horror, and to find the magick to effectively bring her out to an audience. Based upon the reactions and post-show comments, I did it quite well – made people uneasy, fearful, uncertain; in some instances, to get up and leave once intermission allowed so. It’s an amalgamation of sentiments that form the highest compliments for someone in horror, and reinforces the notion that I have achieved yet another step in making a formidable mark.
If you’re struggling with character development, or want another perspective on breathing life into fictional personas, consider theatre. It will sharpen your writing, make an unforgettable impression, and may even turn you on to another wonderful outlet for your artistic spirit.
Robyn Alezanders made her horror debut with the short story, “ Soul Stains,” in Des Lewis’ critically acclaimed Nemonymous 5, and earned an Honorable Mention in the 19th Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Her work has also appeared in The Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra, Eternal Haunted Summer, and New Spirit Journal. She hopes to pursue more theatrical roles after Dracula, and to further explore the intricacy of haunting women characters. Find her on FB, posting about scary stuff, vegan baking, her jedi master chihuahua, and whatever else is on her creepy yet loveable mind.
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