By Danielle Cole
As an actor and a screenwriter, one of my favourite parts of fandom improv is the characters I get to play. From Holodeck Follies’ Nine of Ten to Hogwarts Follies’ Rako Badploy to Death Star Follies’ Major Princess Gia Oregano, each character holds a special place in my heart. Crafting each character does take work though. Today, I want to share the work that I do, giving you a peak behind the curtain of fandom improv character creation.
Creating a fandom improv character
Re-watch and/or re-read the source material
When acting, I would never play a character without reading the script. With fandom improv, we don’t get a script. What we do have, though, is the source material we will be satirizing. So I start there. Even if I just re-read or re-watched the material, I’ll engage with it again, thinking specifically about the universe and its characters.
Pick a character to spoof
This is a huge decision! Usually, I have a character or two I’m already drawn to. Sometimes that’s because I connect with them; sometimes it’s because I think it would be an interesting challenge to take them on.
When performing with a nerd comedy troupe, like The Dandies, though, there’s the added question of who everyone else is playing. After all, it would be boring if we all spoofed Luke Skywalker. In order to keep shows balanced, there are times when one or more of us doesn’t get to play our top choice character.
I always try to see this as an opportunity to make an unexpected pick. For example, I have been drawn to Hermione from the first time I read a Harry Potter book. Andie has the same connection though. Spoofing Hermione was important to her, so I looked at other characters. Now, I play Rako Badploy and Bellatwix Derange in Hogwarts Follies. I adore these characters and never would have found them if it weren’t for Andie’s love of Hermione!
Pick a name
Once I know what character I’m going to be spoofing, I start thinking about a name for them. Puns based on the source character or their name are always fun. Here’s the problem… I’m not a big pun person. Thankfully, other troupe members are and are happy to help me out with name ideas!
Find the style
It’s important for a spoof character to be recognizable to audience members. At the same time, we aren’t trying to rip off a source character’s exact look. Therefore, we go for being reminiscent of the source character. Thankfully, Andie is right there to help us find the right balance!
Identify what makes the original character them
Every character has defining traits, experiences, values, etc. Without these aspects, the character wouldn’t be the same person. Some of these elements need to be present in a fandom improv character for the satire to land with audience members. For example, Nine of Ten in Holodeck Follies is a spoof of Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager. The spoof wouldn’t land, though, if Nine of Ten wasn’t a former Borg.
Given the importance of defining character elements, I always create a list of them for each character I play. These then serve as the pillars for my fandom improv character.
Expand the character
A fandom improv character can’t just be the source character over again. They also can’t be a flat caricature or audience members won’t care about them. Therefore, once I have the pillars in place, I move on to expanding my new fandom improv character.
Central to this is finding what’s different about this character as opposed to the source character. While I will think about this, I also find it while working with the rest of the troupe in rehearsals or test shows. On my own and while working with the troupe, I find how my character:
- where they hold tension
- their likes and dislikes
- how they think
- what they think about others
- and much more!
As The Dandies is a comedy troupe, the characters we play tend to be broader, with us amplifying aspects of them to the point of hilarity.
Find the character’s quirks
I love finding little quirks about characters. Small things like knowing a character’s favourite colour or whether they prefer cats or dogs can help me get inside them. In fact, whenever I’m working on a scripted project, in addition to all my other homework, I do online surveys for my character. This helps me find little things about them, embedding them in me and vice versa.
With fandom improv characters, these quirks come up in rehearsals and performances. Each time The Dandies do a set in a rehearsal, test show, or performance, I think we make new connections with my fandom improv character. That’s part of why we have deep, compelling characters in our shows. These are people we know through and through!
The final step for a fandom improv character…
Once all the work is in place, it’s performance time! This is when I get to let go. I forget all the pillars and quirks and everything else. All I focus on is being in the moment with my fellow Dandies. So why even do the work in the first place?
I think about it this way… If I’m going up on a highwire, I would do a lot of work making sure the wire is properly attached, the right tension, etc. Then, when I got up on the highwire, I wouldn’t be thinking about things like tension, I’d be focused on crossing the wire. The work on the wire would still matter, though, as it is the basis that allows me to cross it in the first place. Similarly, even if I’m not thinking about the character work in the moment of performance, it’s still there, serving as the basis for everything I’m doing.
Want to learn more about The Dandies fandom improv characters? Check out Captain Rehoho Xerc’s essay on human gender relations and an interview with Commander Hunter. You can also catch our characters in person at Blyth’s Festival of Wizardry!