On Playing a Non-Human Character by Kate Tubbs
Frequent PCSC actor, Kate Tubbs talks about the challenges of creating a non-human character.
Puck is the first Shakespearean Fairy character that I’ve played, so preparing for this role has created a lot of new questions for me and has been an exciting challenge. The first step in creating a non-human character is to determine how your character is different from humans, especially the characters he/she interacts with. In creating Puck, I started by deciding how my character is different emotionally and physically.
Fairy characters don’t feel emotions the same way that humans do. While Fairy emotions can be extreme, they are not as complex as human emotions. For instance, a fairy can get extremely angry or sad, uncontrollably happy or tired, but he/she can’t feel complex emotions like shame or regret, and cannot empathize or sympathize with humans. So this informs how I interact with and treat the human characters. Puck’s detachment makes him a playful plot advancer who is intensely curious to see things play out.
Similarly, magical or non-human characters have different relationships with their environment. Puck moves differently than humans. He positions himself differently and has different opinions on what is appropriate/normal for interactions. He also has a small amount of magical power. Sometimes he can bend the laws of physics, other times he can control the flora and fauna around them. This has to be a part of my physical performance.
Overall, I tend to think of non human characters as less limited and usually more powerful than human characters. This creates a lot of opportunities for actors to give a unique performance because we can make bigger or more drastic choices. We can raise the stakes much higher and go farther outside of ourselves. We can be as weird or crazy or active as we like. So we have a much larger foundation to build our character on. Our character’s pool of resources is larger and deeper so there are so many things to try.
But even though there are lots of new possibilities when playing a non-human character, in some ways, it is very similar to creating a regular character. You still must understand your character’s storyline — his arc throughout the play, what he does and why and how. Non-human characters don’t necessarily always have exciting story lines or arcs themselves, but they do often have a lot to do with plot development. So the actors have a myriad of whys and hows to choose from. That’s what makes these roles so much fun!