“Living Characters Workshop” and the Magic of Gary Izzo

In 2010 I created a character who is more likable than I will ever be. That is a strange thing. I created and played this character who oozes with charisma, dynamic, magnetic, dramatic, intriguing. She uses my strengths and yet she is very different from who I am. People freaking love this character. They’re drawn to her.

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Myself performing interactive theatre as my pirate character, pirate “Consequence Wailes”.

Children meet her and the next time they see her they hug her. This always shocks me. My character is a pirate. She has multiple weapons on her, a big scar on her face, she’s loud and yells more often than not. She’s a scary pirate! By all the gold in Davey Jones’ locker, why are kids hugging a scary pirate? I never hoped a child would hug me, I never went looking for that in any way. And yet they wrap themselves around me wanting to express how awesome the character I embody is.

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It seriously shocks me how lovable I become as this pirate. [credit: Brett Downs]

That’s not me. That’s not me at all. I’m introverted, but not in a cliché way, which often is misinterpreted as snobbish on first impression. I’ve heard I’m “intimidating” too many times. I never set out to create a charismatic character, I would have thought it a fool’s errand. Do we actors set out to have “stage presence”? Sure! But there’s something magical about it. You want every character you play to have it, but how do you get there?

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Do we get there by making ridiculous faces and “hiding” under parisols offered up by patrons? Maybe… [credit: Flavia Saraceni]

 Gary Izzo knows all about stage presence. I reckon he knows just as much (I might dare suggest more) about magic as Walt Disney himself. He’s the only reason I created this pirate character I speak of. I had the pleasure of playing this character for 4 summers under his direction. Beyond that, I’ve had the pleasure of using his technique to create a handful of other intriguing, dynamic characters. Charisma, stage presence, and charm: 3 things I wasn’t sure one could be taught. Boy did working with Gary prove me wrong.

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Gary and I performing commedia dell’arte together, summer 2012. [credit: John Michael Decker]

Gary Izzo is a pioneer of interactive theatre. He wrote the book on it, that’s not a turn of phrase. This upcoming weekend, and again in March, Gary Izzo is bringing his expertise of interactive theatre and character building to NYC. He is offering “Living Characters Workshop”. This workshop will bring performance enhancing skills (hmm…sorry that sounds weird, but it’s true!) to any actor. It would be a huge god send/game changer to any performer creating a one-person-show. I asked Gary some questions to shed more light on what he’s offering, I’ll let him better explain:

Why is this kind of workshop important?

Actors rightly depend on the director for character discovery, but I find production needs limit time spent on allowing an actor to actualize the character, to move and think as the character, and this can only truly be accomplished outside the text.  Understanding the active qualities and physical nuance, the rhythms and visual focus of character, is as important as knowing its psyche and relation to the story.  The audience understands what it sees as well as hears.  Volumes can be communicated through the expressed nature of the character.  

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Gary teaching a workshop to his cast at the Sterling Renaissance Festival 2010. Can you spot me in this pic (hint: I’m diligently taking notes and wearing a pink shirt)? [credit: Frank Cardillo]

Is this workshop only for theatre actors? 

It is excellent for script-less theatre.  Improv and interactive theatre forms was where it was first developed.    

I’m a film actor, would it be good for me?

This technique works extremely well for film acting, particularly because detail and eye focus is so important, and also because a fast but full characterization is so often demanded in film work.  I have seen many of my students of interactive theatre using this technique “frustrate” a film director by getting it on the first take a bit too often.  

I’m a stand-up comedian, would it be good for me?

If you do character in your routines, yes.  If you can find and hold the essence of a character, and keep it from creeping into something generic, you are well ahead.  This can do that.  

I’m a playwright/screen writer, could this be a good work shop for me?

This technique builds character from actions and wants, they are motivated from what the character does, why they want those activities accomplished and ultimately identifying the core motive force, expressed as a verb, a transitive verb.  It can be handy for writers to work backwards, so to speak, to discover a character from the way it is used in the narrative.  

Who are some of your favorite characters?

In interactive theatre:  I am partial to the “low-life” characters to be honest.  They have fewer cultural constraints, and people seem to be more comfortable with them.

Stage:  Comic characters mostly, ones with glaring faults they are blind to; Don Quixote is my favorite, Bottom, Dogberry, Falstaff, yes, I like Shakespeare a lot.  Also characters of great compassion like George Milton (Of Mice and Men).   

Can you explain more about your “interactive character technique”? 

In interactive theatre, characters have little or no text, no barrier between stage and audience, and often the story is experienced differently by each member of the audience.  For this reason characters must take on more of the dramatic “load” by carrying the story, theme and conflict within the character and its actions within the show.  This technique takes elements of personality such as occupational actions, passion, foible, wants, needs, and values, and engineers them to form a stable personality that reveals the necessary concepts within the interactive play or event.  

It relies heavily on experiential exercises to accomplish this, developing voice, movement, physical idiosyncrasies and metaphors, and a set of primary wants with corresponding actions that fulfill or reveal these wants; a pyramid of sorts that flows from core motive force, to needs and wants, to playable actions (active choices) that reveal the interior of the character in a way that the audience can actually see and experience.  There is no internalization in this technique, it is all playable action.  

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Another commedia dell’arte picture! Gary’s Capitano (bet you guessed that if you know commedia) and I’m his daughter Isabella. That’s Walter as Flavio in the pink! [credit: John Michael Decker]

You have some impressive credits, can you talk a little about your work with Disney and how you became “a founding influence in Disney’s use of live actors”.

I was one of three consulting directors who helped Disney in the Eisner era and the creation of what is now the Hollywood Studios, to rescue itself from dependence on the Audio-Animatronic actor.   We used improv and my interactive technique to create characters for shows, street venues, and rides.  I had been very successful in Renaissance Festivals and events with my work, but it was a little known niche genre back then.  My thinking was that “as goes Disney, so goes the theme park and event world”.  I wanted to make this high-touch theatre form more accessible to the public, it worked, and I got to “write the book on it”.  Our approach was emulated world-wide.  

What will I leave your work shop with that I didn’t have coming in?

The knowledge that there are other ways to pull details from a script that can inform your work.  You’ll leave with a fast, repeatable technique that adds to as opposed to replacing other approaches to character-building, that will give you the tools to create a character you are as at home with on the stage as you are in your own living room.  

Any fun anecdotes you want to share about character work from your career?

There are plenty.  One actor working as a plant at a high-level marketing convention, left a party with four job offers; I once had to convince local police NOT to arrest characters at an outdoor city event, thinking they were real, and very peculiar citizens; one character got a six-year-old girl to talk to him, not realizing they were her first words [ever].  

Anything else we should know Gary?

Just to check out the website.  https://garyizzo.wordpress.com/ Attendees need to have a monologue from a play they know well to work with.  It is not for beginner actors, you need to have done a few roles on stage at least.  This first workshop [this Saturday February 21st] has a 15% discount!

There are still spaces left for Saturday’s workshop. If that’s to soon, there’s another chance for March. I really can’t recommend working with this man enough!

If you’re not an actor that’s okay! Chances are you’re a reader who likes blogs and Gary writes a great blog, The Amber Road. His posts about his 9 year-old daughter are my favorite, always funny and often inspiring.

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A final shot of me performing interactive theatre. This is one of my favorites. The guy threatening me with a turkey leg is an audience member and the helmet I’m wearing belonged to his friend. [credit: Mike Meagher]

About New York Cliche

NYC lifestyle blog by Mary Lane. Events, adventures, epic mistakes, dating, life, humor. A 20-something trying to make it (and make out) in the city of dreams.

4 thoughts on ““Living Characters Workshop” and the Magic of Gary Izzo

    1. Thanks Gino! The fact you subscribed make me feel super special. Not kidding. SO good seeing you last week. (This should probably be an email instead of a comment…I’ll get around to that email sometime before the next blue moon. I swear.)

  1. Fun stuff! I worked Sterling many years ago as some of the first volunteer actors (playtrons as we called ourselves) and had the opportunity to have a few workshops with Gary & company over the summer to help integrate with BTM. Glad you’ve enjoyed your time there.

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