On October 10th, veteran iO West instructor Dave Hill introduced to the iO West curriculum an elective entitled "Get Into Characters."
I recently spoke with Dave about this intriguing new offering.
SKK: Please tell me a little bit about the structure of the class.
DH: The basic way I structure the class is to look at several different angles from which we can create characters and get into a character at the beginning of a scene. We get into the philosophy of character and what makes a character unique.
Sometimes I give homework assignments in which I ask the students to observe people in the world and to see what makes that person unique, and we bring that into the class.
So, each week we look at character and how to create character from a different angle. There are a lot elemental aspects to a person.
We use words like "personality" and "point of view," but those are pretty grand, big-picture generalizations. So I try to break those things down into their parts.
SKK: What might a typical day in the class consist of?
DH: A typical class is a mix of two-person scenes and one-person character excercises –
SKK: Like monologues?
DH: Yes, monologues. And what I've been trying to introduce more is – at the end of the class – we see the character again, and get comfortable with heightening the character, or bringing it into another environment, and seeing where we can take a character. Watching people in a Harold, sometimes the characters hit one note, and don't evolve or keep surprising us as they go.
And I think that if we understand what makes someone interesting and where characters come from, hopefully that translates into what will continue to make them interesting. These different angles of what makes a character interesting can help us sustain that character – to keep playing and supplying us with great material.
I would say exploring the different angles of what creates a character and what it means to build that character are the two main goals of the class.
SKK: You touched on this a little bit, but can you elaborate on what inspired you to bring this class to iO West?
DH: Partly in watching classes and performances – I'm lucky in that I get to see students in Level 1 and Level 7. So I get to see the growth that happens in between. There's not a lot of time in the curriculum – it's not that we don't encourage character work – but there isn't a lot of time in the curriculum to really focus on what it means to be a character or to play a character.
I wanted to get a little more technical and dig a little deeper into that, and add something to the curriculum that isn't there as specifically as I try to teach it.
SKK: Why "Get into Characters," as opposed to just "Character"? Is there any significance to that title?
DH: It's "characters" plural because I don't want us to focus on creating one character and playing that 40% of the time. Like "There's this one banker character that I've created…" and relying on that. That's not really improvising. I want to give the students the tools to create fresh, different characters from a lot of different motives and ideas.
The class is more of a start from scratch, a sort of sculpture. Hopefully the students will have the tools to create a wide spectrum of characters and to open the possibilities. Whatever the spark, it can form its own unique path to a character, rather than just the same but slightly different characters.
SKK: What should students know about this class that sets it apart from other classes at iO West or elsewhere? Why should they take it?
DH: This is a way to play; it's my main style and what got me really connected to improvising. Using character and character creation and evolution gave me a starting place to learn the other skills. It was my entry point to the Harold and to learning to improvise in general.
I'm not saying, "Learn to play like me," or that this is the only way to play, but I am saying that using character is something I try to practice, not just teach.
So it's a little more personal on that level.
For me, it's not just another skill. It's something that I'm connecting to and that I take joy in teaching.
Registration for "Get into Characters" is closed for the current term, but keep checking iO West's website or call 323-962-7560 for information about upcoming workshops.
If you're currently enrolled, feel free to comment below.
And, of course, see Dave Hill perform on the Main Stage weekly with King Ten and monthly with Hill/Jones.
- Shawn Kathryn Kane