The challenges of playing antagonists in fandom improv – and how to navigate them

By Danielle Cole

In Hogwarts Follies and Death Star Follies, I play antagonists. In the past, I’ve played antagonists in scripted film, television, and theatre productions. There are specific challenges to portraying antagonists in fandom improv though.

The challenges of playing antagonists in fandom improv

1. Finding the balance

When spoofing a character in fandom improv, it’s important to be close enough to the source material that the character is recognizable. Otherwise, it’s less of a spoof and more of a new character and audience members can feel let down. On the other hand, it’s important for the spoof to fit the tone of fandom improv comedy. With villains, it can be hard to balance these two elements.

In order to navigate this, I look for the silly and jump on that. For example, in one Hogwarts Follies show, someone talked about chocolate while I was playing Bellatwix Derange. That clicked for me and Bellatwix’s whole plan for creating chaos and bringing He Who Should Not Be Smelled became turning Hogwarts to chocolate. This allowed for a balance between keeping true to Bellatrix Lestrange’s goals, while finding a lighter, funnier tactic to achieve it.

2. Not blocking

As a antagonist, it can be easy to say “no” a lot. After all, whatever the protagonists want, the antagonist usually doesn’t. With improv, though, it’s important to not block – AKA refuse – offers that other performers make. That creates a tricky situation.

The way around it is to say “yes” – even when your character says “no”. What does that mean? Even if your character is in conflict, I can still be engaged as an actor. That means keeping the character involved in the scene, giving them stakes so they care about the interaction, and having a goal that can only be achieved through the other character.

The perfect example of this is Crylo Ben in The Dandies’ fandom improv show, Death Star Follies. If Andie as Bae is trying to get Crylo to the light side of the force, it wouldn’t be blocking to say “no, join the dark side with me”. While that might oppose Bae’s position, it gives Andie and I a plot point to work through and ways to develop our characters. Both characters then care about the issue and each has a personal need to convert the other to their point of view. It would, however, be blocking to ignore Bae or dismiss everything she raises as not being important to Crylo because then I wouldn’t be feeding into anything that Andie is offering.

Being watchable

Here’s the thing with antagonists… some of them aren’t the most fun to watch! This is especially true of lower level antagonists, like Rako Badploy in Hogwarts Follies. Because Rako is so much about bravado and status, it’s hard for audience members to connect with the character – and the spoof can easily turn from funny to annoying.

To keep characters like Rako watchable, I try to find what makes them vulnerable. Spoiler: for Rako, it’s all about lack of parental approval. By showing the character’s human side, it’s easier for audience members to care about the character – even at their worst. The Dandies also work hard to figure out how characters can connect and what they can need from one another. Even characters like Rako have to need something; otherwise, why be around so much and why be so aggressive? By digging into the characters, we find what makes all our characters fully beings, allowing us to have poignant, emotional moments amongst all the silliness and laughter.

In the end, playing antagonists can be challenging, but also rewarding. I love the challenge of finding the vulnerability and humanity in fandom improv antagonists. Want to see The Dandies navigate playing protagonists and antagonists? Catch our next Holodeck Follies show!