Saturday, July 14, 2012

Finding the Character's Blueprint

Character’s blueprint

from the book A BALANCING ACT, by Emmanuelle Chaulet

 Michael Chekhov has a terrific exercise called “Creating the Imaginary Body” of the character. Connecting to the character’s blueprint is a version of it, with a little adjustment. With their eyes open, actors are invited to sculpt and create the body and features of their characters in front of them. Again using their five senses, they are invited to touch, smell, feel, and look at the character they will perform. When they have a clear vision and sensation, I ask them to either step into the imaginary body of the character or (what I personally prefer) let the character come over them like an invisible mantle, or second skin. We then explore feeling the vibration of the character, its blueprint. The actor should then ask, What kind of frequency does the energy of this character have? What kind of heart rate does he or she have? At what rate are the cells of this person vibrating?

The perception of the energetic frequency of an imaginary character is very real. A character’s vibration is invariably different from the personal one of an actor, and will give a very tangible feeling. Like a radio emits waves, our bodies emit a certain frequency of a bioenergetic field. Imaginary characters are the result of the thought patterns and imagination of the author and playwright, the actors who have performed them, previous and current directors, dramaturges, stage managers, marketing directors, and all of those involved in the production. This vibration or frequency is a mass of energy charged by all these thought forms. It is what we call a blueprint.

 Each character, each human being has its own, as individual as a set of fingerprints. Historical figures have even stronger and more defined blueprints because they actually existed. Therefore, the frequency of their energy is extremely precise. Archetypal imaginary characters have a very intense aura of vibration even as you merely pronounce their names: Hamlet, Ophelia, Phaedra, Oedipus, Iago, Stanley Kowalsky, Blanche Dubois. These roles carry with them a background of very powerful energies. They are vibrant with the imprint from past actors who played them and from the imagination of the author. They each form a distinct individual energetic mass. An actor can easily tap into this vibration and connect with it in an energetic way. The vibration will show him the movement, rhythm, intonations, tones of voice, and posture without going through any intellectual process.
However, to tap into this vibration, it is vital that actors utilize their usual research process. I am an advocate of doing research on the time period, place, social context, health issues, historic background, etc. This research will, of course, fuel any organic understanding. Yet, the work on stage should be more impulsive, moment-to-moment, and less intellectualized. After all the research is done and assimilated, one must throw it to the universe and just play. This is what I suggest with the concept of “tapping into the character’s vibration.” After creating the character with your imagination, having researched its history, and with the information from the script, it is crucial to make the work organic by feeling the character not only with the five senses, but also with the energetic system. The actor must connect organically instead of processing things only intellectually. Too often do I see very intelligent actors get in their own way because they are staying in the intellectual understanding of the role, not transcending it and feeling it organically. By using the vibration and the energetic sensory tools, one can shortcut the process and work with one’s instinct. Only then does it become a fusional process, during which the actor starts wearing the character’s energetic blueprint, like a chameleon. Here is what one actor has to say about this process:

 If a writer is drawing from personal experience, which we’re taught is good writing, even though the characters are figments of the writer’s imagination, they are undoubtedly drawing from real, personal interaction with people. Therefore, doesn’t that make the character on the page human? I think Energize can help one come to that conclusion. Once you do that, you stop thinking of acting as an illusion, and start thinking of it more as … what’s the word … an embodiment. You start thinking about embodying a character, rather than creating the illusion of a character. You start thinking about living a character instead of changing yourself or creating a façade. When you draw on a character like Hamlet, who’s been played by thousands of real people since the play’s inception, you’re drawing on those real people’s experiences. When you draw on a character, you’re drawing on an essence that has been explored by everybody. So there is something tangible out there in the universe; there is a Hamlet. We know, we have an idea; I think people have an idea of Hamlet as you draw it into you.  
- Michael T. Toth, actor & participant in an Energize workshop and production

This excerpt is from A BALANCING ACT, the development of Energize a holistic approach to acting by Emmanuelle Chaulet, Lecturer in Theatre at the University of Southern Maine.
For more information on Emmanuelle Chaulet's individual coaching and group workshops, please visit