Notes from a presentation given at a gaming convention in 2013.This is a mini-workshop exploring the most common physical and intellectual exercises to help a gamer get ready for a performance, and how they can be applied to LARPing. Actors don't just walk off the street and into character and neither should you!
I can't teach you how to act in a two-hour workshop. No-one can! This workshop will teach you how to prepare yourself - physically and mentally - to give the best performance you possibly can, and some tips to keep in mind during your game. After that, you're on your own.
Hey guys! Do you think Alan Rickman walked from the street to stage-right of Ordinary People? No, he didn't. Everyone warms up.
Preparation Takes Time
Some actors will prepare for several hours before getting on stage or standing in front of a camera.
Do you have any little rituals before game? You probably do, you're just not fully aware of them. Think about what they do for you, and use them to create a more conscious prep period
If you've not done so before (ie, as suggested in Acting For Gamers Part 1), write an IC "manifesto" for your character. Keep it short - less than a page - and use the active voice as much as possible. Incorporate that manifesto into your preparatory routine. Read it aloud as part of your warm up.
Using the senses.
Assess the game space as your character would - even before you get there! (if possible!)
Do they always look for the exits when they enter a room? Do they want to be able to see who enters and leaves at all times?
Listen to your soundtrack
Perform vocal warm-up exercises
Read something aloud - such as your IC manifesto, or a bit of prose that your character likes.
Create and refer to a ‘scent packet' for your character. A bit of oily rag in a ziploc bag, or a couple of herbal teabags. Or spray a hanky with a perfume you associate with a character.
Is it feasible to eat something you associate w/your character? (eg: espresso and Trish).
If eating isn't an option, then at least spare a few moments to think about your character's favorite foods - which you've long since figured out, right? Savor the memory of the food's texture on the tongue, remind yourself why it's a favorite food of your character, etc.
Is there something your character might handle regularly, such as an old book, a particular type of fabric, a tool vital to their profession or even a "worry stone"? Include something tactile in your prep.
Also: think about a "grounding" exercise using the five senses (as per anxiety management). It can be v. helpful if you find yourself flapping at a bit of a loose end during the course of a game.
Tuning The Instrument
Acting is a craft that uses tools, just like any other. Your most important tool is your body - often referred to by actors as the instrument. The metaphor works, trust me.
A pro athlete wouldn't hit the field without warming up. A singer doesn't go on stage without rehearsal. You don't wade into a game right off the street. The purpose of physical warmup is to shed tension. When a violin isn't tuned properly, it sounds horrible. When your body isn't relaxed, your performance will suffer likewise.
"Checking In" - understanding your physical state at this moment. Guide participants through a check-in.
Guide participants through a simple tense-and-release exercise and a breathing exercise.
You can find guides online for more in-depth routines. Ideally, you should spend at least half an hour checking in with your body and shucking tension. Heck, take a hot bath or get a massage before game, if you can!
"Relaxed" is not the same as "floppy". You should feel alert, refreshed and ready for action, not ready to go to sleep!
Contraiwise, "relaxed" does not mean "You can't tense your muscles during a scene" - that would be impossible! But practice at using your body deliberately and learn to tell the difference between deliberation and getting blocked.
Handy metaphors: a hose can still function, whether lying in a straight line or laid into curves - up to a point!
A couple of related terms you might find useful.
"Blocked" - Just like it sounds. When blocked up, it might be something very specific and easy to identify - you sprained your shoulder yesterday, you got some bad news. Or it might be more difficult. When badly blocked, take a time out to go check in with yourself.
"Open" - just like it sounds, you're feeling good in body and mind and energy is moving through you - freely, but within your control.
Handy metaphor: if you've ever utilized a belief system involving chakras, the state of being "open" is not dissimilar to opening the chakras.
Getting the Max Benefit From Your Prep During the Game
Listen. Really listen.
Too often, we're just waiting for our cue to speak, not listening to what the other characters are saying. This bad habit can be very difficult to overcome, but it's worth it!
Be receptive of energy, as well as giving it. I'll get into that in more depth in Acting For Gamers Part 3 (Performance Workshop)
Unfortunately, this is one of the most challenging aspects of acting and therefore one of the most difficult. It's too easy to get distracted by second-guessing yourself, but concentration and receptivity get easier with practice.
Watch out for - and be ready to kill - your darlings
A favorite phrase, a physical gesture you always call on during a certain moment (I'm guilty of clenching my fists and "pushing" when my characters get angry, for instance).
Wasted movements and wasted words = wasted energy. You're not in a silent movie of the 19-teens, so leave the huge gestures at home. It will take you some time to spot these wasted gestures, so don't expect instant expertise.
If out-of-game time allows, share notes with your fellow players. Very often they'll have spotted something that you're quite unaware of. For instance "What do you mean I always preface any important statement with the word look?" (thank you, Tom Clancy!)
There may be times when you have to step back and re-check-in with yourself. Do it. If you're having a hard time staying in-character, a two minute time-out will help. Me? I take a bathroom break and use the privacy there to my advantage. I might stretch and "shake out" my body, or remind myself of what my goals really are at this moment, etc.
Practice, practice, practice.
You are not going to get the hang of this in a single session. Actors practice all the time for a very good reason. We just squeeze it in when we can!
Even if you've had no time to get ready before arriving at the game site, before you start playing, do the following over the course of 5 - 10 minutes, as it'll be better than nothing: