Historical Characters and Characterization Processes

Lesson 1: Historical Characters and Characterization Processes


Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of what is important to identify Historical characters by participating in instructor led activities and discussions that lead them towards these discoveries.


Materials Needed: papers and bowls for three-way charades.


Hook: Play three-way charades but they have to do it on historical characters. Pass out little slips of paper and have students take three. They are required to write a historical character on each slip of paper and put it in the bowl. For the first round they just have to describe them as many as they can in one minute. Next, they need to give one word to describe this person, the third round they have to act them out. You might have to divide them into two groups to play this game and compete against each other.


Step 1: Stop students after playing round one. Ask. Why might this have been easy or difficult for you? What kinds of things did you describe in this first activity to help your friends get the person right? Who were the easiest to get?

  • People all have defining characteristics that they are often easily described by.
  • We are defined by the things we say and do just like these historical characters are defined.


Step 2: Stop after describing in one word:

  • Why was it easier to get these characters after describing them in one word?
    • Based off the descriptions from the last round
    • When idea or a word associated with something gets passed around you know that person by that word now
    • What is one word or phrase that people often associate with Michael Jackson? (Thriller) how about Trump (I’ll build a wall or China), how about Gollum from Lord of the rings? (precious), how about Gandalf (you shall not pass).
    • Characters, whether fictional or realistic, are described by what people know them by


Step 3: Stop after acting them out:

  • What made performing these characters easier?
    • Because we had already described them once (in history it is helpful to know who the character is and their context to recognize them again)
    • Some of them did very distinct things in history like Hitler and his hand signal, that we instantly know them by. This is important to take in as we are becoming characters.
    • They have a certain physicality


 Step 4: We are going to play another game “flashback photography” Where we recreate pictures of these historical characters and look at their lives in a flashback photo based on their lives. This is to show that every person or “character” is 3 dimensional. Each person goes up one at a time, the whole class does not have to go at the same time. (practice with Moses parting the red sea) On person starts, maybe they start as Moses. They would go up and say “I’m Moses.” Then others would add on to the picture in any way that they want creating an entire 3D picture with their bodies. Examples might be something like:

  • I’m an Israelite
  • I’m the water
  • I’m a whale in the water
  • I’m the sand
  • I’m part of Pharaoh’s army


Explain that it is important to know the simple most understandable facts about your characters that are recognizable to others like in charades, but also the in depth back stories of these characters just like in this flashback game. We are going to learn both about our characters in this unit. This is what you should do when you are becoming a character in a play. For example, if you are the character of Michael Jackson, you need to know about their surface identifiable things. Such as “Thriller,” Jackson Five, dancing, etc. But also, his backstory is important such as where he grew up, what got him into singing, why he kept dancing and singing, who was important to him in his life etc.


Step 6 (Assessment discussion): Why do you think it is important to know how to become someone else in theater? How do you think we learn to become someone else? Do we completely get rid of ourselves? What do we have to change? Discuss with students the importance of using elements of yourself in character development, and the importance of creating real characters.

  • Explain that you want to see them incorporate themselves into these characters. This is their take on the historical figures they are going to be researching.
  • Explain to the students that although it is great to learn how to mimic someone, the trick to good theater is being able to make a character your own. Ask the students how they think this is done?
    • Really taking in what a character does, likes/dislikes, what they sound like
    • Being yourself while being your character


Step 7: Next time we will be doing some research on your characters that you want to perform in depth.


Assessment: On a piece of paper please write your 1,2, and 3rd choices of historical characters to be and put your name on it. Justify your choices. Why do you want to be this character, what can you do with this character that will challenge you and be unique? I will try to give everyone their first choice, but I don’t want there to be doubles. Try to go for a risk, be something that you can really embody. Think about someone that you might not normally get to be because of your normal shape and size.

  • You might be someone that is not your same race or has a talent in singing even if you feel you can’t sing. Challenge yourself. Whose shoes do you want to play in for the next couple of weeks? Who do you want to get to know a little bit more about?