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  • Writer's pictureShannon Stoddard

Character Development Tips

It's been a bit since I've updated my blog; but I thought this week I'd share some Character Development tips as I'm working on developing my character of "Grace Farrell" for the upcoming production of ANNIE that I'm in at the Fort Smith Little Theatre! There are all different kind of methods for helping actors find their characters - and each actor needs to find what works best for them. For me personally, I like to spend some time getting into the mind of my character and thinking about their backstory and why they are the way that they are. I also enjoy being able to physically find who my character is and what their voice is like - but for a character like "Grace" I needed to think more mentally as an actor!

I have been using Robert Cohen's "GOTE" Character Development from his "Acting One /Acting Two" book* for helping me find who Grace Farrell is. "GOTE is an easy-to-remember acronym that stands for and bring together the four basic principles. GOTE therefore, represents a basic method for approaching an acting assignment. The letters individually stand for Goal, Other, Tactics, Expectation (Cohen, 2008)."

GOAL is the character's main quest throughout the show / scene. What does your character want? What is their purpose on stage? Remember that every character on stage has a reason for being in that scene - otherwise the playwright would not have added them into the scene.

OTHER are the other actor(s) on stage with your character and how they are helping you or interfering with your goal. Remember that there is always an "other" in acting - you are never acting alone! Think about your relationship with each character you interact with on stage.

TACTICS are how the character is going to try to achieve their goal. Often it takes several different tactics for a character to ultimately achieve their goal. A show is more interesting as you're seeing a character try and fail and try and fail before ultimately achieving their goal - the audience wants to root for your character!

EXPECTATION is ultimately the excitement your character feels while trying to achieve their goals. Do they expect to succeed? What happens when they're not succeeding? Do they try something else?

Remember that you must play a character's actions to make the character believable on stage! I'll list the questions below from the book that I used to discover who Grace Farrell really is:

  1. Basic information about the character: Name, Sex, Age, Marital Status and History, Educational Level, and Economic/Social Status.

  2. GOAL: What do I really want? When do I want it?

  3. OTHER: From whom (in the play) do I want it? Who in the play can help me? Who in the play can hurt me? Who is an obstacle? Why? What are my deepest fears?

  4. TACTICS: How can I get it? How (and whom) should I threaten? How (and whom) should I induce?

  5. EXPECTATIONS: Why do I expect to get it? Why does it excite me? What will I do when I get it?

*Cohen, R. (2008). In Acting One/Acting Two (pp. 61–65). chapter 8, McGraw-Hill.

For me personally, I first analyze my character in terms of the whole play and answer each of the above questions in a general manner. THEN, I break those questions down be each scene that my character is in and really analyze what is happening in the moment. I like to change the OTHER by asking the OBSTACLE in each scene (remember that often a character tries and fails many times!). This really helps me think about what the character is thinking while they're interacting with others on stage. I write all of this down in my own character journal which I really keep to myself - there may be some things I'd share with a fellow actor or the director - but mostly it is just for me to better understand Grace.

After I've gone through these journal entries with each scene, I like to review those pages after we've run the scene a few times on stage and have learned the blocking. Sometimes things change or there are new discoveries - I love finding more things about my character! I also like trying to wear something the character would wear to help me remember I'm playing a character and not myself. For this role I have been wearing my character shoes. I don't typically wear heels in my everyday life; but Grace Farrell would - so that little costume piece helps me remember to be her and not me!

I hope you can find this helpful to assist you in developing a character of your own sometime! For more information on Robert Cohen's GOTE Character Work - check out his "Acting One / Acting Two" book - it is very informative! Of course, there are other great methods in helping you discover your character - I also enjoy Uta Hagen and her 9 Questions among others - but we'll look into more at another time!

A rehearsal snapshot of the final pose in "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here"

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