“W” is for “Wearing Your Character Lightly”

“Working with Elaine May at the Crystal Palace in Saint Louis, the Compass’s satellite space, [Del] Close helped formulate three principles of improv: don’t dispute what’s been said (you’ve got to play along); assume the active voice instead of the passive; and find the character in your own inclinations, never wear it as something outside yourself.”

Scott Markwell, “Comedy Mother.” Reader 24.45 (11 August 1995): 1, 14-22. p. 18


If someone observes that you are Wearing Your Character Lightly, they are encouraging you to dig deeper and find more grounded truths in your work. This is no small task and is, arguably, the pursuit of a lifetime in the performance arts. As such, many entries in this current project examine tools and techniques for enriching our onstage characterizations and finding ourselves more fully represented in their actions and desires. If you are concerned that you’re nonchalantly slipping on your characters rather than bravely embodying them with all of your being, explore some of the following:

In Search of Snugger-Fitting Clothes

1.) Eschewing two-dimensional acting. Lightly worn characters can tend to comment on the action rather than roll up their sleeves and commit to the unfolding events. “C” is for “Cartooning” examines ways to bring that third dimension to your scene work here, while “S” is for “Subtext” (here) provides pointers for infusing your dialogue with greater complexity.

2.) Embracing new character energies. “C” is for “Character” (here) examines ways to break out of your old patterns and tempos so that you can mine deeper and more dynamic possibilities through considering elements such as age, occupation, and socio-economic background.

3.) Avoiding comfortable pitfalls. There is safety in keeping your character (and scene partners) at arm’s distance, and “C” is for “Commenting” (here) reflects on some familiar pitfalls that can foil an unaware improviser.

4.) Gaining strength through weakness. Shallow characters often avoid change in an effort to retain power or stasis. Exploring culpability and its many gifts (as described in this entry of the same name here) reveals the true gift of embracing tilts and less-admirable qualities in your character work. “V” is for “Vulnerability” (here) further elucidates the related joys of accepting when you’re wrong both on and off the improv stage.

5.) Enjoying the dramatic. When we lean into dramatic moments (as opposed to leaning away from them in fear, or undermining them with awkward commentary) our characters can reach new heights. “D” is for “Drama” here offers some time-tested techniques for avoiding performance traps that can stall these efforts at creating connected truth.

6.) Relishing your emotions. Performance devoid of emotional honesty is likely lacking depth and nuance in general. “E” is for “Emotional Truth” outlines some helpful strategies for inviting more robust emotions into your work and can be found here, while thoughts on Love (here) and Material (here) also elucidate how to bring more of yourself to the stage.

Final Thought

Fear usually resides at the center of keeping your distance from your theatrical creations. When you assume such a stance, you’re less likely to unlock your own feelings, reveal deeply-held personal truths and experiences, or connect to your scene partners in an unguarded way. Taking the risk to bring more of yourself to your work is just that, a risk, but it also inspires work that can forge meaningful and lasting connections to your collaborators on both sides of the proscenium arch. That’s a risk worth taking in my humble opinion.

Related Entries: Drama, Love, Material, Vulnerability Antonyms: Culpability, Emotional Truth, Subtext Synonyms: Cartooning, Commenting

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Game: Four Square Relationships

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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