DEVELOPING A PERSONA
by Amy Weyand
There are several steps to developing a persona and carrying that persona through at an event. The best personae do not spring fully realized from your brain. They are generally little sparks or funny ideas that pop out at the oddest moments and are then developed over long periods of time, like children who are born, then grow and learn. As your character develops, you will find yourself staying more in character at events and you will purchase clothes and props for the character. (My character even goes shopping with me.)
I start here with the development of a character from idea to real person and show you some of the steps and exercises used in theater and writing to develop a character.
WHO AM I?
First, we start with some basic questions and you should write down the answers to these. Don't worry if you don't have all the answers, those will come later, but any answers you already have will help you organize your thoughts. Also, as you continue to research and read about pirates and piracy, your characterization will grow. Remember you can change anything at a later time - you don't have to be the same persona forever. (One friend of mine went from being Gwendolyn the Fair to Xenobia the Smuggler, the mysterious middle easterner.)
Now is the time to add some personality to the mix. It is easier if you use your own personality, but you are acting so anything goes.
You don't have to psychoanalyze your character, but looking at cause and effect will give you some help staying in character. All of this will give you an idea about where you might fit in with a crew or on land.
Which brings us to:
By now you should be getting an idea of where you might fit in with a mangy flea-bitten pirate crew. There is one more important ingredient. How do I look? What do I wear? If you have enough money for a silk brocade jacket and $1,000 jack boots, you could be a captain; however, if you are like most of us, you will have to start at the bottom and work up. You are best off with a shirt and pants or skirt, hat and maybe rope sandals. Most pirates started as poor sailors and became pirates because it was a fast way to make money. Also, when you are onboard ship, you don't wear your finery, you wear your work clothes.
All this background may seem tedious to you, but it is necessary because the easiest way to stay in character is to tell the character's life stories. The audience wants to know all about your character. The best story is always: "How I became a pirate." You can tell your own story at an encampment or you and a friend can play off each other (like the Corsican Sisters do) or you can try to tell your story while the crew stands behind you and makes rude remarks about you ("I am the Duchess of Luxemborg." "Yea, and if ye gives her a quarter, she'll be the queen!"). If you are very shy, you can have someone tell your story for you. Read the stories of real pirates and change them or use parts of them to enhance your own story. Your stories can also be about the girl you left behind, how you murdered your father who beat you once too often, how all you ever dreamed about was getting rich or the other characters you have met in your travels. You can also get your shipmates to help you with your story.
STAYING IN CHARACTER
The hardest part of designing a character and building a life story is staying in character when nothing is really going on. This becomes easier when you choose a personality close to your own or one you would like to be. You must concentrate on where you are, what your character would do in this situation, and how you are reacting as the character. Learning sea chanteys will also give you something to do at events. You can also learn a skill that you can demonstrate (mending sails, tying knots).
You need to give your character space to grow. Be slightly mysterious at the start. Lots of sailors and pirates were wanted by the law and didn't want anyone knowing their business.
In developing a persona you must create a physical and psychological profile of your character. You should read about pirates, sailors, privateers, buccaneers, etc. Then, you can build stories about your character and concentrate on your persona. My final word of advice is to practice, practice, practice. Be your character as much as possible! (I don't mean at work.)
Amy Weyand has a B.A. in Theatre and portrays "Barracuda d'Morte" with the Port Royal Privateers. Besides acting and singing in stage and film productions, Amy has taught voice, projection, public speaking and dancing as well as acting.