We started rehearsals for our next production right after the new year. As always, the kids are great. The play is Wagon Wheels West, a spoof on the old Hollywood westerns. The rehearsals are interesting but some of the kids are having a hard time getting into character. Most of them have never seen one of the old movies and have never heard of John Wayne or Gary Cooper. Our shoot-out on mainstreet ends up sounding a little like a light sabre battle in Star Wars.
Most of the kids come on stage and act like a strange version of themselves - some sort of strange blend of a modern teenager and old cowboy. Last week, we sat all the kids in a circle and one by one went over their characters. We discussed what their motivations were, how their relationship affected their actions, their responsibilities in the old west community, and sometimes even making up background stories for them. I found a few videos for our villain and hero to watch so they could understand the intensity of an old west gun battle.
What a change those discussions made in our rehearsals! Now the kids come on stage with a clear vision of who they are portraying. Our villain is that much more villainous, our hero is more heroic, and our outlaws are going to steal the show. Understanding their roles made all the difference in how they acted.
It reminded me of writing. I can tell a story, but unless I take the time to get to know and understand my characters, the story will fall flat. There are so many things about a character that never make it into the book. Yet it is those very things that influence how the character acts in any given situation. When we know our characters inside and out, it allows us to write them consistently. It is worth the time it takes to do because in the end, it makes the story stronger and more interesting for the reader.