This is an all-play low-stakes exploratory exercise that allows players to get some reps in making quick instinctive and embodied character choices. I call it Character Walk (or sometimes, What’s in a Name?) and it makes for a good companion game to the general concept of Character, one of the four pillars of CROW.
A caller provides a series of prompts to inspire players as they assume new characterizations. Players begin by walking through the space as themselves and are instructed to create original characters based initially on various random names. This is largely a solo exploration with players embodying energies, movement qualities and character manners without major interactions with others in the space. As the caller, I tend to use the following guidelines to frame the exercise.
Phase One: Generally, I’ll begin by providing names and adjectives. For simplicity purposes I tend to move my way through the alphabet, so you might get “Anxious Aaron,” “Bold Brenda,” “Charismatic Charlie…” Each name should inspire a quick shift from the participating players.
Phase Two: Once the rhythm and technique of the exercise are clear, I’ll start dropping the adjectives and continue the exercise with just a series of unadorned first names. Again, I tend to just keep moving through the alphabet from wherever I left off in order to spark my own creative juices, so you might get “Ivan,” “Juanita,” then “Kenneth…”
Phase Three: After the second phase has been given sufficient time, the final transition involves merely saying “Change” rather than giving a new name for inspiration. This may initially require a little sidecoaching to clarify any potential confusion as new characters are now inspired by each individual player’s own imagination. Some players may find they continue to privately select new names for themselves, while others may enjoy just following their first gut reaction. Both approaches, or a combination thereof, are absolutely in the spirit of the game.
Each time I conduct this exercise groups have slightly different experiences. Some strongly prefer the conceit of the adjective and name, while others prefer the final iteration when they have more freedom and self control. Regardless, some sidecoaching encouraging players to push their own boundaries, assumptions and patterns always proves helpful. Players can tend to jump to bold but unnuanced characters initially, so nudging them to dig deeper and find integrity in their choices keeps the exercise’s focus front of mind.
Traps and Tips
1.) Give each new character time to breathe. In my experience this exercise is less helpful and revealing if you rush through it. Characters will rarely move beyond a quick stereotype or cliche if only given 10 or 20 seconds to live in the mull of the ensemble. Be patient as the caller, especially in the early stages of the game, and if players are struggling to dig deeper into the characterizations, cajole them with some additional prompts or biographical questions, such as “How old are you,” “What do you do for a living,” or “Where do you carry your stress?” While players may pause briefly in the space or engage in a simple activity, also encourage them to focus on the walking aspect of the game so that each character is created and polished while in motion (otherwise it can tend to become too cerebral).
2.) Give each new phase time to build. Also be wary of racing through the three different phases as each group is likely to have its own needs and preferences. I find the adjectives initially helpful just to jar players out of simple binaries: “my last character was slow, so I’m going to make this one move fast.” Many will go through some equivalent of this tactic, so its helpful to make sure you allow everyone sufficient opportunities to wrestle with these short-cuts and find out what comes next. The third round, in particular, can prove liberating or thwarting depending on the individual. For those in the latter category, you’ll want to give them space to push through any initial reluctance as best they can.
3.) Give each individual encouragement to explore. Players can become a little self-conscious mulling through the space alongside everyone else and can tend to get comparative: “I’m not as loud as the other players” or “I don’t think I’m doing this right.” A few words of encouragement or adjustment as the caller will go a long way. Offer more biographical prompts if some individuals are stumbling, or questions that pertain to the exercise as a whole: “What patterns are you falling into,” “How is this character different than others you’ve embodied,” or “How does this character make you feel?”
4.) Give the group sufficient time to debrief. The exercise might speak for itself, but often I’ve found players want to talk about some of their trends and experiences. Did players find one or more phases inherently easier to approach or embody? When did characters start to feel the most connected or real? Did they find themselves falling into stereotypes that would be problematic on the stage? What discoveries or aspects of the exercise can be easily applied to how they craft characters in their scene work?
A simple choice such as a name can serve as the inspiration for a host of different personalities, energies and physicalities, especially when we marry our instinctual reactions with a more refined approach to character development. A strong follow-up to this exercise is to revisit particularly resonant or interesting creations by placing them in new relationship and scenic combinations.
Connected Concept: Character (CROW)