Defining The Why is your key to creating a full character. The work to build a full character is one half of the job.
The other half, in interactive entertainment, is connecting the character with visitors.
Before I get into connecting, a little flashback on how these ideas came into being.
I was responsible to do observations and write performance evaluations of hundreds of different performers in a theme park. First, following my own advice, I dug into The Why. Reviewing the scripts, the IPs, character guides and previous notes, I learned what drove each character and the director’s creative goals.
I watched character performances and gave notes every day. I also wrote each performer an annual evaluation of their work, based on the same creative criteria. I compared the written information to what I was seeing. And I watched the guests closely to see how deeply they got involved.
Right off, it was crazy how easy it was to see that the performers were falling into three groups.
In one group, a few performers were off base on the character. Or they weren’t connecting with guests. Or their interactions were flat, predictable, uninspiring. Maybe all three.
The next group, the biggest group, was doing okay. They’d done some thinking about the character, but it wasn’t deep or detailed enough – for them it just created limitations. They’d show off one or two general traits of the character. They’d have basic gestures and business that they would cycle through. Also, some favorite tricks and jokes would keep popping up. Like I said, it was okay. But two things were missing; 1) Characters didn’t have much life. They were not very compelling or surprising – instead, they were quite predictable, 2) Performer weren’t really paying attention to the guest or the moment as it played out. In other words, the guest didn’t have any effect on the character.
The last group was the exceptional performers. The difference was was night and day. As they worked, they became a living, thinking being. Everything they did fit into your idea of the character, but somehow they still caught you off guard. They were exciting, surprising and unpredictable. You were compelled to watch each interaction, just to see what this character would do next. You had to meet them so you could get that special attention from them, too. And you walked away feeling important. You knew in your heart that you had been seen and appreciated. It didn’t matter if they were a bad guy, good guy, human, monster or an animal, the energy around these characters was thrilling, joyful and wonderful to be part of.
Imagine how it would be to meet one of your favorite characters and they genuinely made you feel like the hero! That’s what these characters could do.
I was excited. To a theatre nerd like me, their work was a fantastic demonstration of the best in our craft. This group had figured out the way to create a full character and how to make genuine connection with guests. So I dug even more to identify what these performers did to create this high level of work. Soon, I had what it was that made the exceptional ones stand out. I would apply these ideas when I gave daily notes and as I rehearsed new performers. I knew it was working as more of the middle group started to turn in amazing performances. And the new folks fit in quicker and made deeper impressions from the start.
I want you to have the tools to do that kind of work. I want you to be exceptional.
Now, on to the second half of the work.
Next: Starting Connections and Interactions