Many, many, MANY of the people I know play a character of some sort, at least some of the time. Whether because they LARP…whether they are theatre nerds…whether they have a public persona that is a little different than their private one…we all have roles we play at some point. This post is about LARPs, in particular, but you can construe this to fit any need you want to. The following can certainly help actors, dancers, teachers, what have you. If you wear a literal or proverbial mask, my hope is that at least some of this can help you.
LARP. Live Action Role Play.
Usually, part of playing in a LARP is creating a character. This can be anyone you want it to be, given your parameters in a particular game. But, for me anyway, the main focus of a LARP is the actual role play. Becoming, interacting, reacting, behaving and moving in such a way that my character has practically come to life. Through ME! It’s an amazing feeling. But then again, I am a big old theatre nerd. Maybe that’s just how I get my kicks…becoming someone else for a little while, and letting Sam rest. Knowwhatimean?
Granted, lots of people in LARPs are content with merely putting on a costume/garb, responding to a different name, maybe wearing different make up or a mask or what have you. And that’s fine, too. I have no beef with stick jocks and boffer badasses. I am just saying that, for me, becoming a character, someone other than myself, enriches the experience. I might do, say or feel things I wouldn’t otherwise. The role-play, the acting, the metamorphosing into some one else…that’s the draw for me.
So, where do you start?
First, in nearly every game, either live action or table top, you start by giving your character the bare bones it needs to fit within the game. A race, a strain, a job, a name. Fairly basic, yeah? You often pick from skills your character can work with off the bat. Once everything is filled out on paper, then you get into the costume/rough idea of what the character looks like: How your character dresses, what they wear, what they carry with them. Occasionally, they give their character another accent or cadence to speak with. And often at this point, people assume they are done. Their “character” is made.
But for me, stopping right here means you play you…you present yourself to the game as yourself, in different clothes, with certain skills, and maybe talking a little differently. Not a lot of role-play here. Not a lot of character immersion. (Again, if this is where you are comfortable stopping, stop. No harm, no foul, no judgement.)
But, let’s go further down the rabbit hole, shall we? Let’s make this barebones skeleton a fully fleshed out character. And they start out ANY WAY you want them to. (Sometimes, later on in this process, you feel a little more restricted in who this person can or cannot be. Just don’t limit yourself. Hopefully, you will see what I mean pretty quick.)
The next step, quick and dirty style.
In the LARP of Dystopia Rising, my character asks everyone she meets “How ya doing’? How’s ya mutha?”
Granted, part of this exercise is to give the respondent an instant clarity of a little bit of who I am. I am obviously a Yorker. I am obviously new in town. Two key pieces of information that others might find important off the bat.
But the bigger point is, it makes the respondent think. There aren’t a lot of players that I have come into contact with that actually have an answer to this question. They haven’t delved that far into who their character is. And how do I know this?
The mother/child bond is often the strongest bond between two people, and the first human connection at least one of them has with another. (I don’t meant to imply sappy music and butterflies here. The bond isn’t always a great one. But it is often one that is the first significant connection, and sets a tone for the rest of their lives.) Ergo, knowing how your character’s mother is can tell me a lot about who that character is inside.
If one was abandoned by their mother, there might be a deep scar on their psyche. They may be willing to do anything they can to keep another on their good side, for fear of rejection or abandonment. If they were abused by their mother, they likely don’t trust anyone and keep their distance until a large chunk of trust is earned first. If their mother was warm and nurturing, but their mother is no longer alive, there might be sadness and loss behind their eyes, and yet there might be a glimmer of pride and security that was reinforced from infancy. If she was nurturing and loving, and is still alive, that person is often filled with hope and a little extra security…in that no matter what happens, mom’s house is always there and is a safe place to fall, and that no matter what they do, their mother will love them. If they don’t know whether their mother is alive or dead, there might be a hint of urgency and longing to find her. I can go on and on with other examples, but I am hoping you get the idea by now.
Does that make sense? No matter what the relationship is with one’s maternal parent, it leaves a mark: good, bad or indifferent. It’s there.
Now, 9 times out of 10, the response I get back when I ask “How’s ya mutha” is “she’s dead”, and that tells me quite a bit…about the player. I’ve only attended two events thus far, testing the waters with “How’s ya mutha?” At the next event, when someone answers their mother is dead, I will ask how she died. Make you think a little more, because merely answering with “She’s dead” is boring.
So, if you have little time or aren’t ready/willing to go any further with your character creation, at least ask yourself about your mother. Is she alive? If she is, where is she? When did you last see her? Is she well? If she is dead, how did she die? How old were you when she died? How old was she? (You can continue to narrow it down, depending on how interested you are in this, and ask yourself to imagine your last day with her, what she was doing the day she died, your last words, etc.) Make it as happy happy joy joy or as traumatic as you like. This is your character.
Please make no mistake: these small nuances will and should affect your character, just as they do real life people. Experiences, good and bad, help shape someone to become who they are today. In real life, you wouldn’t be exactly where you are right this second if you hadn’t experienced your life every day up to now, and lived with every choice you made.
(Side note: You can do the above exercise as an actor as well. If your script doesn’t state specifically, you can make it up. Just because a nuance isn’t written, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If you explore the relationship of your character and their mother, you might get a deeper sense as to who this character is. You may have to change it if it affects your portrayal in a way your director doesn’t like. So be a little flexible until you nail it on the head.)
Going beyond “ya mutha”
Take your character sheet, and sit somewhere you can think a bit. Some people need total quiet. Maybe you do fine sitting at the coffee shop. Whatever you need to be able to devote some attention to this character, do it. You might want to bring paper with you for personal note taking. Whatever floats your boat.
Then, play a little game. Pretend you have been offered a specific amount of money (let’s say, $1) for every specific detail you can find about your character. Pretend your character is a real person, and you are interviewing them in your head.
With your brand new, infant stage character idea, answer the following questions as your character:
*What is my goal? (To be a hero? To save someone? to find safety? What is the number one thing that drives you day to day? You might decide you have many goals, so pick the one that stands out the most, and flesh it out…and then go down the list in order of importance.)
*When was I born?
*What day was it?
*What was the weather like the day I was born?
*Who named me?
*Why did they pick that name for me?
*Why do I do (profession) what I do?
*How did I learn my profession?
*What am I doing in this town/settlement/community/war?
*How did I get to this town/settlement/community/war? What is my mode of transportation? How long did it take?
And you can continue down the rabbit hole as far as you want to. The further you go, the more real your character becomes. Here are more suggestions:
*What is my most vivid memory at age 5? 10? 20?
*Am I virgin? If so, why? If not, who did I lose my virginity to? When? Where?
*How did I earn my first bit of currency? What was my first job?
*Who do you trust, and why?
*Who don’t you trust? Why not?
*What’s my favorite color?
*How did I get the clothing I have on? Did I make it? How? Did I find it? Where? Did someone give it to me? Why?
*What is my favorite meal? When was the last time I had it?
*Who was the nicest person I ever met? What did they do that was so nice?
*Who is the meanest? What did they do to me that was so mean?
*What offends me the most?
*Describe the happiest day I have ever experienced.
*Describe the saddest day have ever experienced.
*What is my most prized possession? Where did I get it? What do I do to protect it?
*Have I ever received a gift from someone? What were they?
*Who was your first love? Do you still love them? Do they love you?
*What is one thing you don’t want anyone else to know about you?
*What are you most afraid of?
*What is something that you find relaxing?
*What is the worst thing you have ever done to someone that you feel guilty about?
And so on, and so on. You can go as far as you want to. If you have started answering these questions in your head, I am willing to bet you might be feeling a deeper connection to your character. They might seem a little more real to you.
Keep in mind, these answers are only for you. You don’t have to share any of this information with anyone if you have no desire to. This information is only for you to know.
Putting this in to practice
Take a hike
Once you have nailed your character down…once you have dug deep into their mind and memory and you have a clear sense of who they are, put yourself in those shoes, and walk across your living room, or down the street. At first walk normally, and replay all of this information in your head. Your gait may change. Your hips may swing more, or less. Your chest might inflate, or your shoulders my swoop down. Your pace might quicken. Or you might shuffle your feet.
Your gait, stance and pace will be different if you are on a mission to avenge a wrong doing, than it is if you are carefree, right? Practice that walk. (Preferably in whatever shoes you will be wearing.)
Most of us humans have an innate sense of empathy. Thats why often, when your friend is sad, and they are telling you why, your shoulders sag a little more, and you often begin to mimic their stance. So, tell this story in your head about your character and walk and pace. If you have a hard time distinguishing whether anything is different or not, record yourself on your laptop or phone, and then study the footage.
Through the looking glass
Take the time to dress in your costume/garb and stand in front of a mirror. Read or replay your answers to the questions, using first person narrative, and looking in the mirror. Notice if your face changes expression. If you begin using more or less hand gestures. Practice how your character might laugh, or ask a question. Determine if your character will look anyone in the eyes or if they pinpoint more the bridge of someone’s nose as a focal point. Dance. Flourish.
If that gets a little boring, do something a little different away from the mirror. Cook a meal as your character would cook a meal. Change out your laundry. Walk through the grocery store. Do everyday mundane tasks as someone completely different to get a better feel of your character.
A page out of a book
Take a page out of a book, and read it as yourself, and then as your character, and I mean really as your character. Tell yourself the story of your character in “I” sentences, and then immediately read a page from a book. Do you emphasize different syllables? Is your cadence the same? Is it slightly different? Did certain words jump out?
Practice makes perfect. Getting into and coming out of your character might take some real work at first, especially if you have never done it before. But the more you practice these things, the easier it gets, I promise you. Do all of the preceding at least once a week. Or at least twice before you head off to an event. Or for at least 2 hours. Notice any different feelings, senses, changes and take note of them. Seriously. I know you might feel it’s stupid, but go with me on this. Enriching your character might change your role-play a bit, and your experience might be enhanced through really getting under the skin and picking the brain of your character.
I know several of you may think this is all overboard and too much, and maybe it is for you. That’s okay. Just…maybe don’t knock it til you try it? Don’t worry about folks judging you. We are all huge nerds. We LARP for goodness sakes. We cosplay. We get involved in tabletop games. We have real emotions with these games. Come on. Who is judging who?
If you would like to bounce ideas off of me, or consult me with ideas, please feel free to reach out. I am always happy to help.