Put on that Mask: On Character


This post serves as a further elaboration of this post, and it is my recommendation you at least skim it before reading this one.

I give props to Stefanie’s most recent post for the spark of inspiration, and to the fact that my college theater club will be holding auditions for The Crucible by Arthur Miller as their fall production (hopefully) soon.

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Before I begin, I’d like to say that this examination of the concept of “character” applies mostly to the theater.  Ballroom does require slight acting at the very least, so you, as the dancer, can apply what I say accordingly in whatever way suits you.  (That is, if you even want to apply it.)

If you have any exposure to acting, you understand that character is important.  Any director worth his or her salt, will emphasize it, especially if there are fresh faces in the theater.  But, what exactly is “character”, and why is it so important?  As you’ll recall, the ancient Greeks used masks in acting.  These masks acted as a sign with flashing lights that made it very obvious what their roles were.  This, of course, was accompanied by acting.  Now, let’s switch gears.

Let’s say you audition for a play, hoping, at least, to get a bit part.  You audition, and a couple of nail-biting days later, you find you get in.  Congratulations!  What part you got doesn’t matter because all you wanted to do was get in.  Rehearsals start, and the cast is urged to “develop their character”.  Why develop a character that’s already, well, developed?  A playwright’s characters are like blocks of raw material.  They have substance and are clearly fitted for a specific purpose.  But, it is your job, as the artist to shape your own block.  Rehearsals progress, and you have a grasp on you character now.  Sometimes you hear the director tell one of your cast-mates to “get into character” or tell them not to “break character”.  What on earth does that mean?  Well, each actor’s character is his/her “mask”.  When the mask goes on, the person beneath it goes away.  It may seem like an odd, even frightening concept, but the goal of acting is to literally become someone else.  Yes, this is technically impossible, and yes, you are still your own person underneath your character.  But, when the audience arrives on opening night, and willingly suspends their disbelief, it is your job not to let any part of what’s under the mask show.  If it does, at any point in time, you are “breaking character”.

So, how can you apply this to your dancing?  Firstly, forming a character and acting it when you dance covers up nervousness.  I hate the speeches I have to give for college sometimes, but I have to act as if I’m the smartest chick in the world.  Second, it gives the dance a bit more spice, and augments it by making it more than just a specific dance.  Third, it just may impress whomever is watching, be they judges or spectators.  You never know.  Fourth, and most importantly, character can cover up flaws.  You heard me right.  If someone is really and truly into his/her character a slip-up will merely interrupt the flow of action, not bring him/her down.  I’ve messed up competing before, and my insides were screaming bloody murder about it.  However, on the outside, I had to act as if nobody saw that.  Not easy.  But, as Victor once told me, “always smile.”  Sometimes it isn’t about falling down.  It’s about how you get up when you do.  We said back in my high school theater that “Character covers a multitude of sins.”  This can also apply to your dancing, or whatever else you do.  If given raw material, carve it.

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