20 Questions: Creating "Darlings"

How do you create characters?

By March 9, 2016 No Comments

The framework of starting with a well known and beloved story can make building character easier in some ways. There are already guideposts on which to hang a hat. So we let that help us as we begin to devise our characters. Who are the Darlings? What do we already think we know about them from J.M Barrie? What might surprise us? What new discoveries can we make that will help us transform these characters into three dimensional beings? Of course there is the added element that Animal Engine is telling a new tale about this old story. What happens in that empty nursery, what happens to the bereft Mr. and Mrs. Darling who, left behind, are forced to grapple with the tragic loss of their three children? Where do we first encounter them in this new telling of the story? How do we embody their grief and the alterations of their relationship as time passes and unravels them?

Whoa. Heavy stuff. So like any brave performers embarking on “an awfully big adventure,” Animal Engine dives in. We start with costumes. How does it feel to move in more period pieces? Do the clothes provide a heaviness that alters the speed or agility with which the character can move? Does that inform us about the character’s emotional state?

We play some with text, but we also look at what is said between the text. We are in search of a gestural language. The way in which this couple relates to one another without words. We play with and embark on a journey to find personal gestures, which then bleed into character gestures so that we may determine where the two intersect. Then, I offered suggestions beyond asking the performers to find their personal gestures. As they moved in the space I offered several words to invite the performers to find a physical insight into possible narrative and to allow deeper character traits to emerge. We worked with five triggers: mother, story, night, loss, and Peter Pan. I also, requested they share three intimate places. These are the sensitive places on the body. The spots that, when touched or referenced, make the performer feel open and vulnerable. The Darling’s relationship and interactions will be enhanced and deepened as we continue to use and expose these vulnerabilities.

In our most recent rehearsal we blend. We interact with costume, we find ways to speak with and without text and the characters begin to light up. We start to see glimpses of the Darling’s relationship, their agony, and their heartbreaking beauty. The beginning of the story emerges. How exciting to watch these now breathing characters begin to tell us their story! I can’t wait for the next part of the journey. Finding out how Animal Engine morphs from the Darlings into the Neverland Characters…what an “awfully big adventure” awaits us!

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