HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: 6 Ways to Sell the Supernatural

4298168It’s that time of year! Horror flicks, zombie romps, and supernatural spooks are the name of the game. But if fantasy/sci-fi isn’t for everyone. Even devotees can quail in the face of a hopelessly convoluted monster-of-the-week script. So in honor of season, here are some tips to keep you grounded in the face of other-worldly characters.


1) Play the character, not the genre. Remember, even the most undead of vampires has an objective. The same rules of acting apply regardless of circumstance. If you’re getting too wigged out by all the monster jargon, take a breath, step back, and return to the basics. What is the scene really about? Remember, most sci-fi and fantasy makes heavy use of metaphor. We’re using heightened circumstances to tell universal stories. Get to the guts of it.

2) Remember the Stakes. Often in supernatural-based storylines, the stakes are sky-high. Life and death. Whiff on the stakes and you’re done for. It’s a fine line to walk. Don’t let the circumstances tempt you into an overwrought performance, or playing the emotion of the scene rather than the action. Keep it honest and grounded, while letting the stakes inform your tactics. Use an analytical eye when determining the stakes. Often the heightened nature of the genre can obfuscate what’s really at play. Is it really the impending destruction of the town were-zombies that matters to your character? Or is it the potential loss of a chance at redemption? Simplify. Most times it comes down to relationships.

3) Commit! No one wants to see an actor judging the script or dragging himself through a painful process. This calls for Hugh Jackman-as-Wolverine-level commitment. Lean into it. Accept the world of the script. It doesn’t matter how frivolous or nonsensical you think the work is, it’s your job to make it believable. Extrapolate.  Find the kernel of relatable truth at the heart of the character and the story, and hold on for dear life.

4) Do Your Research. Most modern supernatural stories have their roots in myth and folklore. Doing proper research can only enrich and enhance your performance, and hopefully foster a personal connection with the world and source material. It can be a source of inspiration and help you get more specific about the stakes and the character’s objectives and tactics.

5) Figure Out the Tone of the Show. No two monster mashes are the same. Some are campy and fun, some are soaps in different packaging. Wrapping your head around personality of the production will help you click into the right world.

6) Recognize the gifts. Whether vampire or Van Helsing, supernatural roles are fun. They let you stretch in ways you don’t normally get to explore. Instead of thinking of each complication as a hurdle, regard it as a gift. Have to act through 7 hours worth of makeup and special effects? Great! Let it inform the character’s physicality. Working with superpowers that make no sense? Use it as a challenge to get specific with your backstory. It sounds trite, but these are all opportunities.

Have fun. Keep it loose, organic and rely on your technique. It will carry you through. Happy Halloween!


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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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