Grinchin Around- Creating a Character

Grinchin 2

When The Grinch arrived at the Charleston Christmas Parade last year towing a sled full of toys followed by a barrage of Nutcracker soldiers, little did the “Mean One” realize what a frenzy his presence would create in the Holy City. Days later the man who people wouldn’t touch “with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole”, was the main attraction on King Street, headlining a sold-out extended run of Charleston Ballet Theatre’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Kicking off the ballet’s second season of their popular Children’s Series, the snow-filled family favorite arrives earlier this year opening on November 14 for a two weekend run at the Black Box Theatre. With all the nostalgia and magic of the original Dr. Seuss story and the classic holiday animated television special, CBT’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is back to spread the holiday cheer one more time this season with added performances of the family-friendly snow-filled cheerfest  that begin next week.  Meet Steve Boston ( The Mean Ole Mr. Grinch) and Jennifer Balcerzak Muller (Cindy Lou Who) .

I thought it would be fun to blog about creating a character. 

In Western theatre-dance traditions, notably ballet and modern dance, the most recurrent clash of principles has been over the question of expression. Theatre dance generally falls into two categories: that which is purely formal, or dedicated to the perfection of style and display of skill. George  Balanchine  created modern ballet, based on his deep knowledge of classical forms and techniques. He was a choreographer known for his musicality; he did not illustrate music but expressed it in dance and worked extensively with Igor Stravinsky, his contemporary.)   , and that which is dramatic, or dedicated to the expression of emotion, character, and narrative action.  Jean-Georges Noverre, the great French choreographer and ballet master,  argued that dance is meaningless unless it has some dramatic and expressive content and that movement should become more natural and accommodate a wider range of expression: “I think . . . this art has remained in its infancy only because its effects have been limited, like those of fireworks designed simply to gratify the eyes. . . . No one has suspected its power of speaking to the heart.

Creating characters is an art. In a dancers early training l, very few of us are exposed to the subtleties of acting. Instead we drill our exercises and try to master the newest, craziest trick that someone came across on YouTube. While it is important to focus on technique, it is just as important to think about how to portray a character. For example, how can physicality enhance your emotion? How can you suck the audience into your story and make them feel something?  No matter what sort of role you  dance, all through your dancing career you’re going to have to populate your experience with characters, and a lot of them, if not all of them, you’re going to have to create from scratch. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately — there is no Betty Crocker Instant Character-In-A-Can that you can mix with water and pop into the oven for twenty minutes. There aren’t any quick and easy recipes, to do this.. It takes thought and time  otherwise you have.  A two-dimensional, hollow, clichéd character. A flat, meaningless character. A forgettable character. An expendable character you spit out and toss in the trash when you’re done. A character no one cares about. Not even you.

The craft of creating characters makes a difference. People want to get to know great characters, and well-developed characters are the foundation and the support of any good story. The famous Royal Ballet Ballerina, Lynn Seymour was a one-off. On her good nights she was glorious, and on nights when she wasn’t having a good time, it was extremely obvious. She threw herself into whatever role she was dancing with total commitment, and few dancers have left their mark so indelibly on their created roles. Most people associate her with the tragic heroines of Kenneth Macmillan, but she was much more than that – a brilliant comedian in Solitaire or Dances at a Gathering, and a dancer of melting, fluid beauty in the second act of Giselle, A Month in the Country, or Ashton’s Isadora Duncan waltzes.

So how to do it ?   Here are some suggestions

1. Study the pros

•Don’t start your character off with a name or a physical description.

•Do start developing your character by giving him a problem, a dramatic need, a compulsion.

•Don’t rely on crutches.

I’ve seen some dancers creating your character by giving him a hook — some little device that characterizes the person. Nervous whistling, jangling car keys kept in the right front pocket, a complete wardrobe of blue shirts, the anxious stroking of a rabbit’s foot in moments of deep stress. It doesn’t hurt to do this, but I recommend that you do it later rather than sooner . And don’t mistake a few nervous tics and a jaunty saunter for characterization. Your own character is what’s inside of you — what you’re made of when things get ugly and hard; whether you’ll take something that doesn’t belong to you if no one is looking, whether you’ll tell the truth even if lying is easier, whether you’ll be faithful to you wife when presented with the perfect opportunity for a no-strings-attached one-nighter. Your character has nothing to do with whether you wipe your bangs out of your eyes with the back of your hand or always wear something yellow, and the same is true of the people you’ll be creating and writing.

•Do empathize with your character.

•Don’t sympathize with your characters.

•Finally, do write from your own life.Grinchin


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