The most memorable scenes in larps have one thing in common: they involve strong emotions. But how to know how your character should feel in a given situation? How to express their emotions authentically? This article gives tips on how to prepare for the game in order to create a character who easily feels and some practices for expressing the turbulence of their inner realms.
Here are some useful practices to help you to tap into your character’s emotional realm.
1. Understand What Is Most Important To Your Character
What would your character fight for? Die, or even kill for? Her loved ones, money, drugs, her spiritual guru, fame on social media, a better climate, her zombie pet puppies, or the freedom to have ice cream for breakfast? That’s probably her deepest motivation, which tints her thoughts and excites emotions. This is what fuels her every action.
You may also want to explore if that motivation is strong or is she losing her interest towards it? Are there some conflicting drives, some other important things in her life? What kind of things are held important in her culture and in her family?
Write down the answers to the questions above. Then imagine some interesting situation in your character’s life, like talking to her parents (living or dead), succeeding in her duties, facing her fears or falling in love. Select the scene and watch it in your head as a movie or free-write about it. Don’t think too much, just witness your character reacting.
2. Understand The Relationship Dynamics
Before the game, talk with your close contact players. What do you and they want from the game? What kind of traits do your characters have? What is similar, what is different? What is important to them? How do they usually express their emotions?
One powerful way to practice relationship dynamics is to come up with a scene in your characters’ past (a happy memory or a conflict) and play it for 5-10 minutes. After trying out the scene, share what it stirred up in you. This will give you both a hold of the dynamic and expression. It will also boost your confidence to express your character safely in game.
3. Make Sure You Are Safe
In our Nordic cultures we’re accustomed to playing it cool in our social roles, whether we are in or out of character. Even if we feel a storming rage or sparkling joy inside, we usually show up as grey and dull as the Finnish summer. It’s completely understandable that stepping out of this conditioning and revealing our hearts may feel daunting.
That is why it is important to feel that you are safe among your fellow players. If the larp touches difficult topics, then it is crucial. Larp organizers may want to create or co-create some social rules for the players, such as “everyone is responsible for their own boundaries”.
The best way to create safety for yourself as a player is to get to know your closest contacts before the game in person. Tell them what you like and try to find some common interests. Agree about the physical and emotional boundaries: what is okay for you and what is not. If you dare, share what you feel insecure about in playing the relationship of your characters and come up with ideas on how to make it easier.
4. Follow Your Character’s Impulses
Once you’ve done the groundwork properly, you have a good understanding about your character’s motivations and their relationship dynamics and a safe environment for playing. Then it’s time to let it go. Let your character happen in the moment: let her have her thoughts and feelings, let live her own life. Express whatever she wants to say or do and follow her impulses — of course in respect of your and fellow players’
She will automatically have different reactions when she hears that her children have been kidnapped, orcs are about to attack or that the dinner is late. You don’t need to know them all beforehand, just trust your character’s ability to fully be herself. You don’t need to act. This is one of the most freeing ways of playing. Neither you need to get lost in your thoughts in the middle of the game pondering how your character should react.
Surrendering to your character’s impulses becomes easier when you learn to accept your own impulses. Simple exercises used in improv theatre (Johnstone 1987) and the Meisner acting technique (Meisner & Longwell 1987) can also be very helpful here.
5. Practice Expressing Emotions
Conveying emotions involves more than just words. Our posture, movement, facial expressions, rhythms of speech and breathing, and tone of voice all reveal something about our inner states.
How do you know how the other person feels? A good practice for studying expressing emotions is to observe other people doing so, in movies, larps, and in real life.
Another way to practice expressions is by selecting a sentence (e.g. “I want to buy a unicorn”) and saying it with a different feeling (happy, sad, angry, in love, scared and surprised). Repeat the sentence with the same feeling a couple of times, and let it grow every time. You can do this in front of a mirror, by shooting a video of yourself, or with a friend. Pay attention to how your tone of voice, facial expression, and posture change and how you feel.
When you become more comfortable in feeling emotions and expressing them, the easier it is to express whatever your character feels. For some people being in character is very liberating, because it gives them a chance to overcome the restrictions of their own personality.
Keith Johnstone (1987): Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Routledge.
Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell (1987): Sanford Meisner on Acting. Vintage.