Ahead of her weekend intensive on characters, theatre school manager Imogen writes about her experience of playing villains.
It took me a long time in improv to start playing truly evil or reprehensible characters.
I wanted to be liked. I wanted my character to be one of the ‘good ones’. Even if I ended up in a villainous role, I would find way to bail on the character and ‘have a change of heart’.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for villains ‘to come good’ stories or that villains can’t have vulnerability or heart.
However, there is a joy to be found in committing to a character whose views are not your own. Most stories need a villain and if you’re prepared to go there, you can serve the story and raise the stakes for everyone.
In Melbourne, I explored opposite world view characters with the incredible director/ teacher Katherine Weaver. She loves the horror genre and directed me in a show called ‘Monster of the Week’ where I learnt to play characters I had never dared before.
Sweet adorable victims- giving the audience the chance to fall in love with you before you are brutally killed – and monstrous villains. I learnt to enjoy prowling, embodying a vampire, playing someone likeable who turns evil when they get bitten. Very satisfying storytelling.
We did an exercise where we played characters with opposite world views to ourselves. I played someone who didn’t believe in global warming. This sort of work requires sensitivity and care but it led to some really exciting break-throughs for me personally.
In an improvised Shakespeare company in Melbourne I was lucky enough to play with a collective of open-hearted inspiring humans who were able to have difficult conversations about sensitive themes. In one show, in Shakespearian fashion, I played a Duke/ Uncle who wanted to have it away with my niece. I leant into the lechery of the character and played sinister at a distance. I got boos and hisses from the audience. My team honoured the story by making sure I was brutally killed at the end. It is one of my favourite roles I have ever played and couldn’t be further from ‘me’.
One of the greatest joys of improvisation is playing a wide spectrum of characters; playing outside of your expected character range. If you want to discover your inner villainous side, or learn to develop characters with deeper wants or attitudes towards others, join me on the 26th and 27th September for a weekend intensive where we deep dive into the world of characterisation.