One of my favorite – and one of the most challenging – aspects of working with Pigeon Creek is their practice of doubling which, for those who might not know, is having one actor play multiple characters. I really enjoy the unique challenges it presents, despite the stress it can sometimes cause.
The biggest benefit, for me at least, is that it gives me more to do in any given show. Instead of my handful of lines as “Guard #1” (in this case, Francisco) and sitting backstage for the next two hours, I’m actually kept pretty busy. I personally hate having a lot of downtime during a show. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worked with anyone that aspires to only being “Guard #1”. At the same time, depending on the arrangement of the doublings, you can be left running around like crazy between scenes back stage.
In one of my first shows with PCSC, Twelfth Night, I played three different characters: Sebastian, Curio, and Valentine. None of these characters actually had very many lines, but there were multiple places where I had maybe thirty seconds to switch costumes (possibly grabbing or dropping off props on the way) and get to the correct side of the stage for my next entrance. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare, considering the different costumes didn’t share any elements. The logistical stuff such as costumes and entrances/exits are usually worked out before we open, however, so unless disaster strikes, it isn’t typically a big problem.
One question that I always encounter when I’m doubling is “How did you memorize all of those extra lines?” In all honesty, the increased amount of words is rarely an issue. In doubled roles, the individual characters don’t really have *that* many lines – makes sense, right? The challenge lies in holding on to two (or three, or four) separate personalities, remembering which character goes where, and keeping a close eye on the plot of the show.
As I’m getting more and more used to portraying multiple characters at the same time, I’ve tried to be a lot more decisive about my acting choices in order to highlight the differences between the different roles. Take, for example, two of my characters in Hamlet: Osric and Rosencrantz. From the way they dress and speak, down to their reactions and how they carry themselves, I’ve really tried to create as much difference between them as I possibly can.
Rosencrantz is kind of your stereotypical frat-boy jerk: he walks with a bit of a swagger, crotch first; he pops his collar; he’ll find the innuendo in pretty much anything anyone says; and, of course, he’s a total gold-digger. I also try to keep his voice on the lower/gruffer end of my own natural speaking voice. My goal for Rosencrantz was to create a character that, while definitely annoying, he’s still entertaining enough to keep as a friend you *sometimes* hang out with. He’s one of your old college buddies that never quite grew out of that phase.
Osric, on the other hand, is much more on the proper side of the spectrum. He dresses (in his opinion) immaculately, his walk is downright feminine, and I’ve raised his pitch closer to what I naturally use and smoothed out the voice significantly. If you’ve ever seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mssr. Gustav was more of an inspiration for this. Osric knows who everyone is (despite Hamlet and Horatio apparently not recognizing him), and tries to anticipate the needs of his superiors. He does, however, retain the dirty sense of humor, though it’s displayed in a more subtle fashion.
Between these two characters, along with a surly priest and an average-Joe palace guard, I feel like I’ve had my work cut out for me. I don’t think I’d have it any other way, though; I relish the challenge, and look forward to fine-tuning my technique as we continue the run. Why settle for one role when you can have two, or three, or four…