Importance of ‘character arc’
We’re glad that our articles on the difference between “personality” and “character” acting have been discussed by quite a number of interested readers, even in some communications and theater classes.
Time was when it was presumed that “personality” acting was the way to go, especially in this viewing culture, which favors good-looking and charismatic stars above anybody else. But, it looks like that’s finally changing, with more viewers and actors realizing that what’s truly important is the performance, not the performers.
This veritably flies in the face of our “star” culture, which enables nobodies to become popular luminaries at least initially due to the fact that they’ve been blessed with such good looks.
That’s why, even if at the start they can’t act their way out of a paper bag, we put up with them because they look so wonderful, usually in an idealized tisay way—and that’s why we fall in love with them.
In fact, some particularly photogenic stars enjoy long and prosperous stellar careers without really learning how to act—but that’s okay, as long as they continue to look good!
We understand this pop-culture view, but we rue it because it limits the richness, depth, variety and texture of stellar performances we get to notice onscreen.
A typecast action hero with limited thespic skills and sensitivity can end up playing 50 or more stellar roles in the course of his long career, but many of them will be minor variations on the original film characterization decades ago that made viewers become his instant and die-hard fans.
That’s bad for him, but a tragedy for us, because we’re so many who have been deprived of the great variety of dramatic experiences we deserve to get from the movies.
The biggest communal loss is the fact that, even now when character is preferred over personality acting, there’s still a lack of appreciation of the importance of “character arc” to the dramatic process and its value to viewers.
It’s not enough to present a believable character in the throes of illuminating conflict, you have to show how the character develops and is forced by the stress and pressure of conflict to reveal his true nature—to change.
It is this seminal change brought about by conflict that viewers are instinctively looking for in their dramatic experiences, in order for them to (emotionally and psychologically) learn from those viewed experiences, so they can “use” that new insight in their own lives.
So, it’s not enough to graduate from personality to character acting, an actor has to create a character who develops, reveals his true self and changes in a major way for the experience to be truly, dramatically viable and valuable—and for the role’s all-important character arc to be completed.
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