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Viki (woman) as a character standing on stage with her arms in the air

Building A Character

  • by Viki Jackson

Characters come and go. In improv especially, I find myself going through different seasons of characters. Sometimes they might relate to my mood or mindset at the time, sometimes they might be inspired by someone or something in my life. I always think my therapist would have a field day if she could watch me on stage but that's reading far too much into things...

Anyway, it's good to break out of the same characters if you are feeling stuck. For this I like to use a few of the following exercises to cleanse my character palette. These can be used in improv as well as character and clown comedy.

Character rolodex 

This is a fast and furious way of discovering new characters. This is where you stand and start a scene (alone) or a monologue as a character. Someone will call "change" at random times and when they do, you drop the character and start a new scene. It doesn't matter what you are talking about in the scene, or any object work. The point of this exercise is to break into new characters.

For the best results I like to do this with someone who knows me and my characters calling change as they can spot which ones are too similar to what I are playing already and push me out of your comfort zone. I’ve also done this before with my improv team and we note down ones we find interesting for each other then we spend some time building them out and playing in them for a few scenes later on.


This is the classic improv exercise where you walk around the room and let different parts of your body lead. Try leading with your nose or your hips or your hands. Next you can try walking like a banker or a ballerina or like your best friend. It all means different things to different people but taking a moment to clock how you are feeling in that walk can give you an idea of the character and their desires. 

Real life walkabout 

Don't get caught doing this one! When you're walking down the street, notice how the person in front of you is walking. Do they have a swagger, a bounce in their step, are they looking down? See if you can take on their walk and think about how it makes you feel. This is similar to the walk about exercise except you've got the inspiration in front of you. You can guess who they are, where they're going, what their favourite sandwich filling is. Whatever you guess is right because you'll likely never find out the real answer. 


This one is a little more heady and a bit less improv. It's good for clown or character comedy but I don't see why you couldn't use it to build up some background improv characters to seep into your subconscious. Pick an occupation or person (famous or someone you know). Then answer a few questions about them which will help you build out a new character and understand their point of view of the world. Questions could be: where do you live? What's your first memory? Why do you do what you do? Have you experienced love? Where do you want to go on holiday? What do you think of Disney films? Would you prefer shoes or trainers? How often do you wash? What's your favourite condiment?

That’s some of my favourite character exercises but how do you like building your characters? What are your favourite characters you've played? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Viki (woman) as a character standing on stage with her arms in the air


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