As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a devoted reader. More than anything, I love to find a book that can give me new ideas on the craft of acting and I’m always excited to share the different books that have sparked my curiosity.
One such title was In Character: An Actor’s Workbook for Character Development by Christopher Vened, which I found to be pretty useful. At just under 100 pages, it reads as though the author cut out all of the unnecessary fluff and filler, leaving only the most essential ideas. In other words, it’s all meat, no fat. I always take notes when I read a new book and I found myself writing down just about everything as I was making my way through this one.
The author’s theory about the actor/character relationship is complex, yet I think the book’s forward does an excellent job summarizing it. “[Vened] proposes a form of character study that is deeply personal, yet leads to a universal reference. He insists on the centrality of the individual actor, yet this very centrality is the beginning rather than the end of the actor’s journey.”
Here are a few of my favorite parts from the book:
— On the concept of identity, the author writes:
“Because of the concept of identity, we divide characters into two basic categories: the individual character and the character type.
How would you categorize your character?
individual character character type
The individual character is what makes persons different from one another; the character type is what makes them the same or similar. The individual character is unique; the character type is common or universal.”
What a great way to re-think the roles we work on as actors! I feel like this is a pretty accurate way to break down the types of people we’re portraying as actors, either specific and particular or mythic and universal.
— A bit more about these types:
“The self-made character is called the individual character; the character borrowed from social convention is called the character type.”
“There’s almost always some degree of incongruity between one’s character and one’s being [...] which leads to conflict, the source of drama.”
Finding the inner conflict of a character is always one of the most challenging parts in taking on a new role.I think the notion of a split between the self-made character and the one following social norms is a fantastic way to access this somewhat hidden dimension.
— On exactness and spontaneity:
“The character from the play is an acquired identity; the actor’s individual self is an inherently given—and developed—identity. These identities may match or clash, correlate or contradict, integrate into a harmonious whole or disintegrate into an antagonistic relationship. How those two identities crisscross each other is the whole secret of acting.”
In other words, not only do the characters within a play have dynamic relationships with one another, we as actors have intense and ever-changing relationships with the characters we play.
— The way that the author breaks down object work is pretty fascinating, too:
“The personal object is an object to which one is attached, and through which one expresses the self.”
And he gives this great set of quick assignments:
“What are the objects your character is using during the performance?
ASSIGNMENT 1: List all the objects your character is using during the performance.
ASSIGNMENT 2: Single out your character’s personal object(s).”
Then he provides another assignment focused around establishing your character’s object and means of identifying with that object, based around three separate categories: Qualities, Function and Relation. It’s all really useful stuff!
— Another thing that I like about the book is how Vened talks about a character’s center. An acting teacher might say to “find your center,” making you think about your stomach or chest, but that might not be your character’s center.
“The center focuses your whole being into one spot. It serves as the energy source of your activity.”
I've made a Center and Object Worksheet to keep you on track when working. Click here to download.
Lastly, here are my abridged notes from the book.