The Sword
The Cabiri Chronicles
     Life of a History
     Under the Hood

     Balancing Act

     I was just acting!
     Lucifer as a Player
     Player Types Defined
     LARP Boredom
     LARP Survival

     Economics in D&D 3.5

     Sept 11, 2002
     Columbia Disaster

     A Letter of Vocation
     Evidence of Evil
     In Defense of a Reflection

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I was just acting!
Ham as a verb

          GM: "Okay, he swings at you and… <familiar clattering of dice> …he misses. It’s your turn, Aidan."
          Aidan: "Ummm…" <more clattering of dice> "…I rolled an 18! That’s a hit, right?"
          GM: "Yeah, yeah…" <a pause as he scribbles something down> "…okay, the last orc is dead. The maiden is still in the corner."
          Aidan: "I ask her if she’s the Lord’s daughter."
          GM: "Yup, she is. She tells you thanks for saving her."
          Aidan: "No problem. Okay, let’s get back to town and get our reward…"
          Chris: "Can we order pizza? I’m hungry…"

          If that sounds like an average Saturday night game session, it’s time to spice up things a bit. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had formal training in theatre or even worked back-stage at a school play, you can spice up any game by just hamming it up a bit. You may feel a bit silly at first, but if you keep it up, you’re players will catch on and things’ll start getting more comfortable. There are a few things you can do to teach yourself some techniques that even experienced actors use to provide realistic performances.

          All the world’s a stage…
          Get out. Go to a mall or amusement park or a concert or some other place where there are a lot of people. Find a convenience spot to sit and plant yourself there. Free your mind of any personal concerns. Don’t think about that girl in math class, your bills, or whether you put on the same color socks. Then, once you’ve divested yourself of yourself, watch. Carefully. Watch people who are walking alone, how they carry themselves. Do they walk with their shoulders slumped, or perfectly erect? Do their eyes keep wandering around or do they keep their gaze pinned steadfastly to the ground? Are they constantly playing with their hair, or biting their lip? What do these actions say to you? Is the person upset? Uptight? Lost in his own thoughts? Is he accustomed to where he is? Is he lost? Now move on to small groups of people. Watch how people interact with one another. Are those two people a couple? What about their interaction gives you that impression? Are those people friends? Is there one in the group who doesn’t quite fit in? When they talk, do they swing their hands about to emphasize their point? Do their eyes wander around or do they remain fixed on the person they’re talking to? Are their eyebrows moving around like two crickets stuck to their forehead? Or do they keep them in one, specific position? Now, I’m not talking about lurking or stalking. Don’t try to be weird when you’re doing this…people will act differently if they know they’re being watched and the results of your research will be influenced so as to no longer be useful. Just casually glance around, keeping in mind that you are watching people and observing your own impressions of what their actions mean.

          …And all the men and women merely players…
          Okay…now that you’ve got a good feeling for how people interact in the real world, watch TV. I don’t mean watching TV like you normally do, just sitting there, absorbing what’s going on. Really watch TV. Watch the actors and how they operate. This will allow you to carefully observe their facial features without making someone uncomfortable. You don’t really want to be watching your average sitcom when you are doing this type of research, as the acting is generally inferior. Rent a copy of some less-than-mainstream movies, like The Piano or Braveheart. Or just about any production of any of Shakespeares plays (Oliver Parker’s Othello and either Branagh’s or Zepherelli’s Hamlet are great). Or even Star Trek: the Next Generation (paying particular attention to Patrick Steward and Brent Spiner, both with extensive classical theatre experience). Even a few sitcoms will do, in a pinch, but regardless of what you watch, keep in mind the lessons you’ve already learned watching real people, instead of characters on a screen.
          Also, listen carefully to various accents. What does a German sound like, when he’s trying to speak English? You can listen to Jean Reno for a good example of a French accent. British actors are fairly common on modern TV, but watching plenty of Monty Python will give you a good range (if a bit exaggerated) of examples of the various accents which exist in modern Britain.

          Okay…now that you’ve spent some time watching others, its time to try it out yourself. Grab a mirror and lay it in your lap. Make a face, one that you think conveys a specific emotion. Don’t let your parents or significant other catch you at this, though…I don’t want anyone locked up in a padded room because of this article! Then, once you think you’ve got it, hold your face still while bringing the mirror up so that you can see into it. Don’t move your eyes to the mirror, move the mirror to a spot where you can see…the eyes are one of the most important facial features when it comes to communicating emotion. If you think the expression you’ve conjured up doesn’t work, go back to the VCR and pause a tape somewhere where an actor is attempting to convey a similar emotion. Try it again and again until your satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. Remember that face, how your muscles are situated (which are relaxed and which are flexed), how narrow your eyes are, etc. Keep practicing. Eventually, you will get it. Use that face next time you’ve got a character that you need to convey that emotion. For different characters, alter the face slightly.
          Also recall how people carry themselves and how they sound. Someone who is stout will tend to have a deeper voice, like Brian Blessed. Women tend to have softer voices. Realize that you can create different sounds by "speaking" from various parts of your throat. In your mind, concentrate on what part of your throat is most active when you speak normally. Then try moving the active part of your throat/mouth/nose to different areas. Speaking from your nose will sound tinny (nasal, even). Speaking from the bottom of your throat or top of the chest will be deeper. Speaking from the top of your throat will sound higher and airy. Speaking at the front of your mouth will sound like you’ve got a lisp. Try combining a few of these methods and you’ll be surprised at the range of sound you can get your voicebox to emit.
          Many people have told me that they can’t act. I say that’s poppy-cock, at least to some degree. Most of these people are merely fearful of looking silly, and that affects their performance. I’m not suggesting you’ll become a Shakespearean actor by following these tips. But it will improve your game. Eventually, your players will start hamming it up, as well. Instead of every sentence starting with "I tell him that…", you’ll see your players suddenly break into character, and you’ll know when its them talking and when its the character. With a voice and certain actions, the character will begin to take on a life of its own. Then, you’ll really be role-playing.