Characterisation Lesson Plan!

Hello to all!

I wanted to share a lesson in 'Characterisation' that I've been using for a while now, developed by myself, for younger students / those new to acting. I used it with students between the ages of 9 and 12 and it worked perfectly.

I have a big bag of hats, scarves, glasses, bags that is essential for this lesson - which is what makes it so enjoyable, because we all know kids love dressing up!

The aim of this workshop is to encourage students to think about the various ways we can create a character - focusing in particular on walks and voices. By creating an awareness of how individuals differ vastly in the way we move and behave students will undergo various games and improvisation exercises that inspire them to walk, behave and talk in new, imaginative ways, depending on the character they have invented through the process of dressing up.

This is an hour's lesson plan with exercises mentioned at the bottom that didn't work and why (remember that myself and the student's don't speak the same language so everything must be simplified!).

1. Grandma's footsteps with hats

The children play this well-known game but with the added challenge of having to put on a hat before reaching the other side! This also 'introduces' them to the contents of the costume bag in a fun way that prevents them from all running to them and grabbing them/snatching them/fighting over them!

2. Walk and greet 

Students dress up and create a distinctive walk. They walk around the room until they are comfortable with this walk, then they decide on how they greet each other (do they say 'Hello' or 'Hi' or 'Alright?' or 'Good day!' and with what kind of voice?). When I clap my hands they swap costumes with the person nearest to them and create something new.

- I found it difficult to get the students to concentrate here and stop giggling and talking to each other as 'themselves'. Which is why the next exercise 'Cat walk' was good!

3. Cat walk

Half the students sit at one end of the room and the other half stand at the other. On the count of three they walk (with their accessories) to the other side of the room, showing off their 'walks'. This is to encourage the students to watch, and learn from, each other.

 4.  Park bench improv game

Two or three chairs are placed in the centre of the room (depending on how many students there are), all costume bits are on one side of the room, and students sit on the floor facing the chairs. The chairs act as a park bench, and this silent improvisation game is very pantomime-y and lots of fun. One student will go and dress up, then walk to the park bench as their own unique character. They sit down (unless their character doesn't want to) and wait for the next character to come. They interact with each other in silence, until the first character finds a reason to leave. I try to encourage exaggerated movements and interesting characters for this, and once they get into the swing of things it really works.

5. Doctor's waiting room

This can be a development from the park bench game. No need to change the setting (maybe add another chair or two), but suddenly all character's have an ailment and must mime opening the door to the waiting room, walk in and sit down. They can talk in this one too, and to spice things up I try to get them to heighten their ailments until they can't do so anymore (coughing until they're on the floor unable to cough anymore, for example), then bring it back down.

6. Britain/Hungary/Whichever country's Got Talent

I act as the judge and give students five minutes to think of their act for this famous talent show. The idea is that they get inspiration from the hat's they choose to wear (for example, a black bowlers hat could imply a mime act, a chef's hat could show someone who can eat food incredibly quickly). They can work individually or in pairs/ groups. They come on stage and introduce themselves as their characters and then show their skills!

I created a couple of other games that didn't really work. The first was a musical game, in which students stood in a circle passing hats / glasses / scarves around the circle, accompanied by music (similar to the game pass the parcel - only everyone is passing and receiving at once). When the music stops they must wear what they have in their hand and dance around the room when the music starts again.
I think it was a bit too fiddly passing the hats around, if one student dropped one then it would delay the whole game and everyone would be stood waiting. It took too long to put scarves etc on for such a quick-fire exercise, and they all seemed a bit too uncomfortable to dance.

I also created a game inspired by the famous Boal's Ball game. In this case, students all created  a highly exaggerated way of moving and a way in which they say hello. They move around the room focusing on themselves and then the people around them. After a while they slowly walk side by side with another student and watch each other, so that they can then swap not only hats/accesories, but also exchange walks and greetings. They do this once or twice more before finding who has their original hat/walk/greeting and comparing it to what they made.
I think this didn't work because it was too complicated to explain to students who do not share a common linguistic code. They did try, but when swapping walks/hello's they just didn't seem to get it right, so I don't think they understood the concept.