Everyone loves to roleplay. It’s a blast stepping out of your own shoes and into somene elses for a bit. This gives you the ability to explore different facets of a personality, do things that would otherwise be unacceptable, or be someone completely else. Now think of the best character you can think of. Now, what’s preventing you from embodying facets of these characteristics?
I let’s look at some roleplay games or things in pop culture. We can cherry-pick a few elements here, there, and hopefully refine ourselves in the ways that we want to. Hopefully if you pull aspects of each of these games, you’ll become some Captain Planet type super human version of yourself.
First and foremost, I highly suggest everyone take an improv class at some point.
The amount that it’s opened me up to live in the moment and enjoy whatever situation I’m in is beyond what I could’ve imagined.
It’s really given me the ability to handle any situation I’ve been with ease and comfort. When doing improv, sometimes you have to deal with performing for an audience a sexy version of a knitting scene. Hopefully, this is something that is far different than what you usually do on a day to day basis. Once you step out of your comfort zone and put yourself in a situation that is so far removed from reality, you can suddenly empathize with any situation that much easier.
If there’s a person with a conflict of some sort, you can more easily see where they’re coming from. Putting yourself in their shoes, you can estimate what their thoughts must be and understand their approach.
One of the exercises we did in class is referred to as “taking a ride on your body”. In this, we would just walk around the room in a semi-meditative state. Thinking of nothing except the things we’re experiencing right at that moment.
The air moving past our face, our feet making contact with the ground, how our hands swung at our sides, our posture, and so on so forth.
Then as we progressed, we would be asked to embody traits of others. We had to carry the weight of the elderly in our bones, walk with the pomp of a football star, slog though our steps like we’re exhausted, and feel the sweltering heat on a hot day.
When doing this activity, it was very easy to see how the placebo your brain triggers works on your body. When embodying an aged person, you think about how your joints would ache, arthritis, and how years of bad posture would affect your body. You reflect on what events shaped this person into what they are now. You feel like an elderly person.
Then there’s the games.
What really sells a person as a good improv artist is how well they are able to melt into a role in a scene and empathize with the character they are portraying. Often, it doesn’t even have to be funny, but seeing the person so out of themselves is funny in itself.
Typically games call for a job, relationship, place, etc. You need to work with any suggestions that are tossed your way.
Sometimes, you’ll need to be a doctor and the person you’re in the scene with is the patient, or maybe they’re nurse or just a relative who’s making a visit to the family doctor.
It’s easy to imagine as a warm up for tennis. You start out with some loose volleys, where you give the scene basics. Ok, it’s a basic check-up.
Then as you start defining your characters or the other person defines your character, you have to pick up the pace and start making a scene out of it. Alright, the client is a person with a backache.
Give it some conflict, hone in on why the scene is happening. Slowly, we’re finding out that the doctor has been drinking Irish Coffee’s instead of the standard morning joe.
Quickly the scene ramps up and now you’re in a fast paced tennis game. Throwing wrenches into the scene trying to break it up with funny instances and exploring the characters. The doctor slowly reveals that he’s having problems with being a new dad and is drinking to cope.
The important thing is that you’ve completely melted into this character by the end of the scene. You have created some defining characteristics, given the character some intelligence, and some history that can be assumed or has already played a part in the scene. Based on the angle you’re approaching the scene you can guess what your character would do in a given situation.
You step into someone else’s shoes for a short bit.
By playing a person that isn’t yourself, it helps you empathize with people much easier. You approach a situation as that person would. Solve problems the way they would. Treat your family the way they would.
It takes you totally out of yourself. Soon, you’ll discover more traits of this person as you develop the scene. As the scene progresses, a backstory is built showing relationships, personality, and their quirks.
These types of activities will help you understand where a person you’re dealing with is coming from.
Just last night, I did a scene where there were two of us at a 50 year anniversary party. The entire scene was just the other guy Keane showing me pictures of his family. “Here’s John, he was a little runt, he picked on his little brother and sister, but Becky, she picked on John.” with me going “Aww, they’re so precious” the entire scene.
That’s all it was.
It went on for minutes just looking a picture he was holding in his hand, but in the process of that, we discovered and built and entire family tree and gave each person some sort of fleshed out characteristics.
With these skills, you can understand people’s motives, emotions, and reasons behind their decisions much better.
You are able to empathize better with friends, family, clients, or whoever so much better. This can help build your relationships to be so much stronger and build new relationships that much easier.
Do improv sometime and discover what it is to empathize with the most outlandish characters. With that, you will understand the most realistic ones that much easier.
P.S. If you want to try improv out and happen to be in Columbus, I highly suggest taking a course with Jeff Gage. It’s super cheap and I had a blast.