April 2, 2020

STAY TUNED: Creating Two Characters

Q: How do you organize yourself energetically if you have to work on two different characters? I found in a recent auditioning experience I became paralyzed in the face of this, and that made me angry. 

So often actors are balancing more than one role at a time, from beginning actors in classes, to professional actors auditioning, all the way up to an actor who is doing a TV show and a play and a movie at once. 

It’s interesting that you ask how to organize this “energetically”. I think energy is an important consideration in the actor’s work, and I’m glad you are aware of that. This also tells me something about your approach, which is that you are “channeling” your characters. It seems to me that you are opening yourself up to a spiritual and intuitive understanding of the character. This intuitive approach to character is wonderful. I think it’s evident that some of the best work comes from actors with this ability. Often times, people credit Meryl Streep with “channeling” her characters. What this means is that you are allowing your intuitive nature to find connection with the character and bring her into you. This is a wholistic approach to acting, and it’s wonderful. But you must ground yourself in the script and the circumstances, for this energy source to really serve the story you’re in. 

Sometimes, actors with a heightened sensitivity and intuition rely on that to interpret their roles. Then if you have more than one role, this method becomes unreliable. You need to create anchors informed by the script to switch in an out of, in concert with your gifts, in order to be consistent. This is where a technique helps you. Let’s consider some ways to ground the characters, so that you’re not solely dependent on your energy to guide you: 

• You are your character. Whatever is going on with you today, emotionally, psychologically, energetically, becomes part of the character. So, you always have that base. That is a similarity in both characters – your state of being. 

• Then each character has something to do. You now have to do that specific thing. Get specific on what that is and bring that into your body. Sense how your need lives in your body. Raise the stakes on it. If it’s not strong enough personally, go back and find another reason why you need to accomplish your action in the scene. You must find an essential reason why you have to play the character, say what she says, do what she does. If you find a personal enough reason for why you need to do what you do in the scene, your energy will support your action. 

• If the need is truly activating you, natural emotional response and behavior will follow. 

• Create a personal relationship with the environment, the relationship to the person you’re talking to, and the moment before you start talking. Of course, you get the information from the script first, but then what are they to you? Create the place, the person you’re talking to, and the moment before, so that they feed your purpose in the scene. 

Once you’ve created this for yourself, you will sense a visceral state of being. You will feel like you really need to do something. I want you to memorize that sensation. How does it live in the body? 

Then let it go. 

Now craft the other character the same way. 

Sometimes you will find that the need can be the same! This can be quite convenient on days when you have more than one audition, because then you can just stay connected to that need, but change the circumstances: you will be in a different place, talking to a different person, and have a different moment before. Now with this new “reality”, you will feel a different experience. Be aware of where you feel the sensation of the active need in your body, in this character, and memorize this state. 

Now, you know how each character lives in your body. You can start from the sensation of the active personal need you’ve created. You have crafted a personal relationship with the circumstances of each scene. Practice moving back and forth between the two states of being you have created. 

Engaging in the process above will break you through to the other side of paralysis. You will have distinct touchstones that will ignite you into action. 

Sometimes our attachment to success, or elements of our life or day, can stir emotion. Remember, you are your character. Anything going on with you, is also part of the reality you’re creating. So maybe it’s there to create more dimension. Never suppress your awarenesses or emotions, use them. 

“All action in the theatre must have inner justification, be logical, coherent, and real.”- Stanislavski 

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”– Einstein 

Please send your specific questions about the art of acting to staytuned@gmail.com and Kymberly will respond to a different question each week! There are no invalid questions, as long as they pertain to your craft and life as an actor. 


Kymberly Harris is an actor’s director. She specializes in character-driven stories, whether the genre is drama, comedy, thriller, or action. Her extensive experience as a method acting coach to professional actors of all ages has led actors to seek her out to direct them towards their best performances in film, television, and theatre projects.

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