Acting Directing

Character Interpretation – The Student’s Point of View

Written by Lindsay Price

Episode 87: Character Interpretation – The Student’s Point of View

Lindsay talks with two sets of students who prepared the same characters, in the same show, but in two different productions. How did they prepare? How did seeing their character played by another actor affect their work?

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 87! Yes, dork central, that would be me. So, you can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode87.

Last week, we talked about character interpretation from the director’s perspective and how two directors from my play, Cobweb Dreams, saw their particular productions. You know, same script, same set, same costumes, same blocking, and then completely different productions.

So, this week, we are going to talk to the students from that production. I have two sets of students, each who prepared the same character – one for the high school production of Cobweb Dreams and then one for the middle school production – and I really wanted to get their point of view on character interpretation, especially since they were able to see, you know, basically, right in front of them, another actor preparing the exact same role. So, how does that affect their preparation and were they intimidated or exhilarated, right?

So, let’s talk to our first set.

Excerpt:

Oh! Do you smell that? Ugh!

What?

It’s the worst thing I have ever smelled! Quick! Plug your ears! Hold your breath!

Why is everybody yelling?

Bottom… you have changed!

Cha-cha-changed!

What is on your head?

Can we get up yet?

Not yet! Still stinky!

Hee haw!

You’re all just making asses of yourself.

Lindsay: Hi! All right. So, I am here and I am in Owensboro and this is actually a very cool situation because we’re sitting in a theatre and it’s empty and it’s quiet. The stage is empty and I’m sitting here with two actors. I’m sitting here first with Tucker. Hello!

Tucker: Hello!

Lindsay: And with Cory. Hello!

Cory: Hello!

Lindsay: And, Tucker, what are we here to talk about?

Tucker: Cobweb Dreams.

Lindsay: Cobweb Dreams! That’s right. It’s tonight, right? It’s this afternoon. We have the middle school production doing their first performance and then tonight with Cory we have the high school performance, right?

Cory: Yes, we do.

Lindsay: Are you guys excited?

Cory: Oh, yes.

Tucker: Very.

Lindsay: Very? You guys can finally get to get it in front of an audience. Are you ready, Tucker?

Tucker: Yeah! As ready as I’ll ever be!

Lindsay: Yeah? That’s good. How about you, Cory?

Cory: Yes, very much ready.

Lindsay: Good. So, what’s really interesting is that, so, Tucker is in the middle school production of Cobweb Dreams and Cory is in the high school production and they’re playing the exact same roles. Cory, what role do you play?

Cory: Bottom.

Lindsay: Yes. So, Cobweb Dreams is a sort of a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and some of the same characters are the same. Just like that. So, did you want this part, Cory?

Cory: Oh, yes, very. It’s a comedic role. Love to make people laugh. When I read the script, wanted Bottom.

Lindsay: How about you, Tucker?

Tucker: Same.

Lindsay: Yeah? You really wanted this part?

Tucker: Yeah, I did.

Lindsay: Tell me why.

Tucker: I like making people laugh and being laughed at. So, that’s pretty much it.

Lindsay: Now, is this part easy for you or difficult?

Tucker: Well, it’s something that I know how to do, but there’s different difficulties because it’s a different character.

Lindsay: What’s something that’s difficult?

Tucker: The lines confuse me sometimes.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Tucker: I just cut people off a lot in the show.

Lindsay: Right. So, it’s hard to get the timing right.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: How about you, Cory? Is this an easy part or difficult?

Cory: It’s a difficult. I believe that the mindset of the character you have to play is very difficult to understand. You have to get that arrogant feel.

Lindsay: So, because you guys are playing two different productions, exact same part, what’s really interesting to me is how there’s a lot of similarities – same script, you guys are working on the same set, you have essentially the same costume – and yet, time and time again, the characters, two people who are playing the same character do them differently. So, Tucker, what do you think that you do that’s different than Cory?

Tucker: I feel like, since our group’s younger, we react differently.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Tucker: To different things. Like, I don’t see Tatanya the way his Bottom does.

Lindsay: Yeah. How do you see Tatanya?

Tucker: I see it as there’s a girl who likes me, why not join on in the fun?

Lindsay: It’s a fun experience for this character.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: What about you, Cory? How does Bottom interact with Tatanya?

Cory: I believe that he’s so into himself that he doesn’t realize that the person in love with him isn’t even human. He’s just like, “Okay. This gorgeous girl is hitting on me. I’m just going to go along with it. Why not?”

Lindsay: Right. Then, you guys, when you were doing your rehearsals, did you guys talk about the role together?

Tucker: Yes.

Cory: Yes.

Lindsay: What was that like, Tucker?

Tucker: Well, we talked about our back story a lot.

Lindsay: Oh, tell me what your back story was.

Tucker: Well, I’m related to Snout in the show and I don’t believe he is.

Lindsay: Oh, cool. Okay. We’ll do one then the other.

Tucker: All right.

Lindsay: So, you’re related to Snout in what way?

Tucker: Yeah. We’re brothers and Quince is like his best friend and they needed somebody else in the show that they were doing.

Lindsay: Hey, is Snout the one who jumps into your arms at the end?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah! Okay. That’s really good. I like that, building that relationship.

Tucker: Yeah, they needed somebody else and I was like, “Nah,” and they were like, “Come on,” so I did it. And then, it turns out I’m obsessed with it so why not do it everywhere I go? And just perform and perform and perform it even though I’m not that good.

Lindsay: Do you think this character knows that he’s not that good?

Tucker: No. He thinks he’s the best thing in the world.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Cool. And then, what was your back story, Cory?

Cory: It was I actually am related to Snout. However, I put it as more of adeeper sad kind of like our mother left us after which so Snout kind of raised mee and all that with my father and I put it as he doesn’t really see the world through anyone else’s eyes except Snout. So, he’s really arrogant, he’s like Snout.

Lindsay: Really? Why is back story important?

Cory: It helps character development so much. It tells you were you’re from, how you develop, how you perform out there.

Lindsay: Yeah. Do you have a lot of experience, Tucker, doing all this kind of back story and character development for your stuff?

Tucker: Well, I usually wrote, like, a page. But, for this one, I had somebody who was that but they were behind me and helped me which was Cory. So, I ended up writing two, three pages because he helped me, like, he helped me get through. So, I was confused on a lot of stuff and he’s older so he would have understood.

Lindsay: So, you have someone who’s older who’s playing the same part as you and he’s sort of like, if there’s anything that you didn’t understand in the script, then he sort of explained it.

Tucker: Yup.

Lindsay: What’s something that you didn’t understand?

Tucker: The song because I’m singing and he told me the song. That didn’t really work out for me because I’m a younger kid so I ended up singing a different song. But that helped me out a lot.

Lindsay: Yeah, just to have someone who kind of throws you, lets you know.

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Did you ever feel any pressure, Tucker, to act the way Cory does?

Tucker: I wanted to be as good as Cory, but I wanted to be different because I’m not Cory. I’m not going to be Cory. But I wanted to be with him but be myself and be different, but still be as good as Cory.

Lindsay: Did you feel any pressure, like, just sort of that you know you had to mentor kind of another person who’s playing your same character?

Cory: Yeah, when I saw the middle school perform and he was up there, I kind of felt, like, responsible to help him develop and help me develop in the same way.

Lindsay: How did it help you?

Cory: He taught me the differences between, like, his reactions are totally different from my reactions. So, I kind of combined them together to make a completely new reaction that both parties helped create.

Lindsay: Yeah, and have you ever done this before where there’s another person, like, right there all the time, playing the same part?

Cory: Nope, never done this before.

Lindsay: So, how has that helped you as an actor?

Cory: It lets me see two different sides of the same character – two different roles of the exact same character – because, when I see the show today, I’m going to be looking at his part. He’s doing it completely different from me, but that’s okay because he’s doing it his own way which is what I respect. I love that people can go, “I’m going to do it this way, but I’m going to do it this way, and it can be even better. It could be amazing.”

Lindsay: Well, this is a perfect example of character interpretation, right? That there’s no one way to play a part, there’s no one way to interpret a theatrical experience. How has this helped your acting, do you think, Tucker?

Tucker: Well, I felt like I had more help this time. Like, not that I needed help but Cory was there to help me. Like, I wouldn’t have understood half the stuff in the show if it wasn’t for Cory because Cory knew how to explain things to me when other people didn’t really understand our role because they weren’t the ones practicing the lines every night. So, he helped me, like, back story a lot. He helped me through that, like, because it’s not the easiest thing for me to do.

Lindsay: No, and also, I mean, how long have you been acting?

Tucker: A while.

Lindsay: Yeah, but is this one of the few parts where it’s been this involved?

Tucker: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah. So, how are you going to tackle your next role, do you think, based on this experience?

Tucker: I don’t know. Like, I’m going to find somebody who can help me out, too, who will actually, like, they know it as well because, like, I saw that when Cory helped me, it helped me grow so much and another person could do the exact same thing because I want the help. I want the criticism because all criticism does is help you. It helps you more and more.

Lindsay: What about you, Cory? What will you take from this to the next thing that you do?

Cory: I believe the next thing I do is, when I get the character and when I get the script, I’ll actually have someone perform the other character so I can take their interpretation and mold it into my own interpretation to get two different sides of the story.

Lindsay: Well, it’s so funny because sometimes you see something you just never thought of, you know? And that can really help you grow. Just what you guys are saying, it can help you grow as an actor.

So, you’re excited for the show. What’s the thing you’re looking forward to the most, Tucker?

Tucker: I don’t know. Doing my final monologue.

Lindsay: Doing your final monologue

Tucker: It’s really fun.

Lindsay: Yeah? I think that moment that you guys have, well, I just love it when Snout just runs down and he leaps into your arms.

Tucker: And I catch him, yeah.

Lindsay: Are you looking forward to the audience?

Tucker: Yeah, yeah.

Lindsay: Responding to what you have to do?

Tucker: Yeah, definitely.

Lindsay: How about you, Cory?

Cory: My favorite part about performing is the audience reaction because I take what they give me and I go, “Okay. I’m doing something really good here.” I just love when they give me a laugh. That’s my favorite part of doing this.

Lindsay: Awesome. Cool! Thank you so much for talking to me.

Tucker: Thank you.

Cory: Thank you.

Lindsay: Ah, great!

Awesome. Okay. So, now we’re going to talk to two different actors – again, one high school student and one middle school student – and this brings in a different aspect of character interpretation – the same character played by two different genders. So, how does gender affect interpretation from the actor’s point of view, okay? Let’s do it.

Excerpt:

Ow! My wings! Get off of me!

You get off!

Do you mind? I don’t like being flattened.

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

Why are you hiding in the bushes?

Who’s hiding? It’s a free forest!

It’s not like we were spying you.

What?

Spying? Who said anything about spying?

How long have you been there?

We were visiting our friend! You have no business here!

None of you have business here.

Ugh!

It isn’t nice to sneak up on a fairy, Moth.

Lindsay: Okay. So, now I’m here with John Thomas. Hello! And Lucy, say hi, Lucy.

Lucy: Hello.

Lindsay: And both of you also play the same character in Cobweb Dreams. Lucy, what is your character?

Lucy: Thicket.

Lindsay: Thicket. Thicket is sort of the best friend-ish, brother-ish character to the main character, Cobweb, right? Right.

Now, the thing is that, in the middle school version – Lucy, which you are in – Thicket is played by you and you are a…?

Lucy: Girl.

Lindsay: Girl, yes. And John Thomas in the high school version, you’re a guy, right? And so, what part were you looking for when you auditioned for the play?

John: I was actually looking at Puck. I really thought he was very playful and mischievous. It was a different character than I was just playing. And then, Miss Greer put on the board on the auditions the names of flower fairies and water fairies and all that, and then she starred certain ones that she wanted to turn into a guy and I was just thinking, “Huh. That’s going to be interesting to see how they’re going to turn it into a guy.” I didn’t think I was going to be the one to change it. But it’s been really interesting.

Lindsay: It’s interesting for me, too, because, you know, for me, I saw Thicket as a girl, but I really like Thicket as a boy. Like, what do you think of the character as a guy, John Thomas?

John: I just think he’s more like a brother to her. If you have a girl play it, it would be more like the best friend, you know. Willow’s kind of like the mommy. But Thicket is kind of like the brother and he’s also kind of an authority figure to her in the end whenever he just tells her, “You know, you belong with us. I don’t know why you can’t see it.”

Lindsay: Now, Lucy, how do you see the character?

Lucy: Well, I see it really playful that she doesn’t really want to get in trouble with Tatanya but, at the same time, she wants to have fun and she wants to go with Cobweb. And, every time Cobweb gets in trouble she’s worried that Cobweb will rat her out, really.

Lindsay: Do you know what’s really interesting though? When I saw taking pictures yesterday of you, Lucy, every time, like, Cobweb was threatened or every time the flower fairies came around, you made a fist and it’s like you were going to get up and you were going to beat somebody up. Is that conscious? Did you make a choice to be angry and make that really tense fist?

Lucy: The first time that happened, like, I was up in her face and I was like, “Wait. Hey, how did I get here?” and then, the other times I thought, “Oh, well, I thought that was fun. Might as well go with it.”

Lindsay: Yeah, it’s a really interesting image which I think the high school, John Thomas, your Thicket’s not like that at all. How do you see that?

John: He is a lot like Willow. The way that I looked into the back story is that Willow and Thicket were brother and sister.

Lindsay: Right.

John: And they both do kind of worry about Cobweb and they’re really concerned about Cobweb, but it’s also like she has to make her own decisions and she has to fail at times, just like everyone.

Lindsay: Right. Yeah, everybody has to. Lucy, did you do some background work on your character?

Lucy: I did!

Lindsay: So, what’s your back story?

Lucy: Well, Thicket is Willow’s twin sister but they’re like fraternal twins – they’re nothing alike – and Cobweb, they just kind of ran into Cobweb one day when Cobweb was about to get beat up by a flower fairy and Willow and Thicket kind of jump in and save her.

Lindsay: Yeah. There’s a moment at the end where, in the middle school version, it’s you and Willow and you’re sort of Willow’s revealing to Thicket for the first time that she’d really missed Cobweb and you guys hold hands when you walk away. What’s that moment like for you?

Lucy: Well, it’s kind of big for us. I mean, Willow has always been, you know, like, “Oh, I’m worried about her,” but, you know, she’s offended in that and then, in that scene, she’s more, “She’s my best friend. I’m going to die without her. I really need her there.”

Lindsay: Did it make sense for you to hold hands when you walked off? You hold hands in other areas, too, don’t you?

Lucy: Uh-huh.

Lindsay: Yeah. John Thomas, you and Willow don’t do that, do you?

John: No.

Lindsay: Why?

John: I think Thicket really gets annoyed with Willow because she’s always worried and she’s always trying to control Cobweb and he really just, as he says, she has to make her own decisions and he gets annoyed with her because he has a bunch of stuff to say. Thicket is younger than Willow and I think he’s a lot wiser even though he is younger and he has so much that he wants to say and he wants to take care of everyone but Willow isn’t letting him so he just gets annoyed with her sometimes.

Lindsay: I love how we have, like, so it’s the exact same show, essentially, but, you know, people are able to make completely different interpretations of their character.

Lucy, what was it like to see your character played by another person?

Lucy: Well, I always saw Thicket in one way. Like, the boyish fairy, very happy, very playful, and then, when I saw John Thomas, I was like, “Oh, Thicket can be another way,” and I was amazed by that.

Lindsay: Yeah? Did you ever feel any pressure to play it his way?

Lucy: Not really, no.

Lindsay: That’s good. That’s good. And what was it like to see the different interpretation of Thicket?

John: It was interesting to see how the show was written for a girl. I really thought it was cool and, you know, I had known Lucy just through seeing her perform at the middle school and so I really was happy for her to get the role and it was just, you know, just looking at her, it’s just like, “Wow!” I really love how we can interpret things differently and it still can be such a good show.

Lindsay: Yeah. It’s like it’s very open, isn’t it? I love that. So, are you guys looking forward to the show? So, tonight we have the high school and this afternoon the middle school. What are you looking forward to, Lucy?

Lucy: Performing for my mom. She’s been really excited about this. She’s helped me run my lines. She’s made my costume. She’s with me all steps.

Lindsay: Cool. How about you?

John: I’m just really excited to premier something. You know, we’re the first group to do this in the United States and it’s just really cool when, you know, twenty years down the road, I can look back and say, “This is what I did.”

Lindsay: Well, and also your names are going to be, when it gets officially published, you’re going to have your names in the published work which is also very cool.

This is a very unique experience that we have the same show as middle school and high school. And, also – you must have – did you have a conversation together about your character?

Lucy: Yeah.

Lindsay: And how do you think that this experience is going to help you the next role that you do? Lucy, what do you think?

Lucy: Well, next role I do, I’ll know not just to see one way. I’ll know to look at it from different points of views, you know, see them as something else.

Lindsay: Cool. How about you?

John: I’ve learned that you can’t just look at a script and get your character that way. You have to research and you have to, I mean, it’s little stuff like looking into the name like where does the name come from. So, I’ve learned that I can’t just not do back story. I have to know who this character is.

Lindsay: Awesome.

John: It just makes the experience so much cooler.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. Break a leg, buys. Thank you!

John: All right. Thank you.

Thank you, guys!

Okay. So, don’t forget, you can find the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode87.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!

So, our play of the week this week is Postcards from Shakespeare by Allison Williams. Allison has a number of plays with us – Drop Dead, Juliet!, Hamlette, Mmmbeth, The Scarlet Heart – and we are thrilled to have another in our catalog.

So, here’s the deal. Shakespeare has writer’s block and he doesn’t know how to fix it so he turns to the only person who can get him out of this jam, Queen Elizabeth I. Of course! Who else would you turn to, right?

Okay. Here is a short moment from the play:

WILLIAM: The words just aren’t coming out…it used to be so easy! Bang out fifty-odd pages, rush it to the theatre, collect the money. Four histories, two comedies and a really long poem in the last four years! But now, I am a block, a stone, a worse than senseless thing. Please, Elizabeth, no-one understands me like you do. What shall I do?

ELIZABETH: How dreadful for you! Sometimes I don’t know what to say, either! But then I just yell, “Chop off his head!” or “I’m not getting married!” and that covers most situations. If I yell it in French, I look clever, too. “Couper la tête! Je ne vais pas épouser!” I don’t think that will work for you, though. You’re already married. And you can’t chop off people’s heads. Well, you can, but you may not. Where would we be if everyone just chopped off someone’s head when they felt like it? Spain. And then we’d all have to take three hours’ nap every afternoon, just when the weather’s getting nice.

Willy—William—your plays make me—what’s that feeling when no-one’s attacking you with guns or asking you to marry some repellent little toad from Norway? Happy! They make me happy. Not too many things do that any more. They say a change is as good as a rest, Willy dear, so let’s have a change of scene. See what I did there? “Scene?” I’m sure I could be a writer, too, if I wasn’t so busy crushing the Welsh. Enclosed is a purse of ducats. Well, not enclosed, attached. Well, handed to you by the messenger with this letter. You know what I mean. Take a little trip on me, Willy, and see if that gives you some fresh ideas. Don’t think of it as giving up—it’s like a strategic retreat. Like the Spanish! “Invincible armada,” my Aunt Fanny.

So, Shakespeare takes a whirlwind tour around the world in thirty minutes looking for inspiration. Venice, Egypt, there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. Go to theatrefolk.com. Search for Postcards from Shakespeare. Read the sample pages. Laugh your butt off. Buy a copy. Do it now.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.” That’s where you’ll find us.

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

About the author

Lindsay Price