Becoming a character: "Xanadu"

Getting into character is harder than just putting on make-up, according to Weber State University theater majors.

Sean Bishop, who played Sonny in WSU’s Xanadu, said he has a ritual to get into the acting mode. Every actor has a different method of entering a character, he said.

“First, I am always notoriously early for call time,” Bishop said. “I like to sit by myself and get rid of the rest of the day.”

Bishop also said he always has his iPod.

“I personally always listen to music to help me get into whatever character I’m playing,” Bishop said. “It’s fun with Xanadu, because the entire cast puts on music and throws dance parties to get ready for the production, since that’s basically the gist of the show anyways.”

Some theater students said no matter what an actor does to become a character, one common trait is needed.

“The actor needs to be focused,” theater professor Tracy Callahan said. “They can’t be bringing in what they did all day. Using techniques like Suzuki and view pointing can help the cast to work as an ensemble and feed off each other kinesthetically.”

Acting involves combining the vocal, physical and emotional core of a character and showcasing those characteristics, Callahan said.

“Analyzing the playwright can help you discover who a character is,” Callahan said. “After studying the analytical side of a character, the actor must focus on the physical side of actually putting on the character. It’s the time to make it your own.”

In order to portray a believable character, students said actors must remember what they’re trying to accomplish.

“You need to pay attention to who your character is and what they’re changing in each scene,” Bishop said. “You’ll miss the ball if you don’t know what your objective is. You also have to believe in the character yourself. You have to know exactly where you’re coming from.”

Bishop’s co-star in Xanadu, Breanne Welch, who played Kira/Clio, said building relationships with the other cast members helps to create convincing characters.

“We’re encouraged to use those connections we make with all the characters onstage and to make the chemistry present, so it doesn’t just feel like we’re people on stage together,” Welch said. “We’re actually an ensemble who all knows each other for our weaknesses and strengths.”

If a student is struggling to portray a character, it can be helpful to find three physical traits that are nothing like the student, but are like the character, Callahan said.

“I would have them start with really small physical traits, like the way the character sits or walks,” Callahan said. “Once you start feeling the character, you intellectualize it. Then, it all starts coming together.”

Callahan said while every show and character differs, one aspect remains the same.

“Acting in any show requires energy and keeping the spirit of the character invested in the show at all times,” Callahan said.

She said actors can’t be completely invested in characters without knowing themselves first.

“When you first begin acting, it’s a lot of self-discovery,” Callahan said. “You can’t discover what someone else is doing until you understand exactly where you yourself are coming from.”

No matter what a person’s background is, everyone can be taught to act, Callahan said.

“Everyone has the ability, but some people have innate impulses that are more open to acting,” Callahan said. “You just have to get your head in it, take some emotional risks and not be afraid of trying and failing.”