6 Cheap and Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Character Research

shutterstock_445213327Every now and then you run into a character that requires a bit of research. Your actor’s imagination can do wonders when it comes to connecting to a character, but sometimes you just need a bit more context. When you’re short on time and money, research can seem like one more obligation draining precious time away from memorizing lines and beating out the script, but it is an essential part of the process.


The first thing you should do is nail down what is most important to research. Figure out what is separating you from relating to your character. Living circumstances are generally a good place to start. Time period, region of the country (or world) socioeconomic status, vocation, religious orientation…these are are major factors that contribute to a character’s development. Once you have a list of the key things you need to research it’s time to dive in! Here are some quick and easy ways to dive into research when you don’t know where to start.


  1. Documentaries. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube all have your back. If you can’t find a full documentary on a subject, chances are you can find interviews, news specials, or clips of real-life people whose circumstances mirror your character. Let yourself fall headfirst down the internet rabbit holes and see what you can dig up.
  2. Podcasts. Podcasts are a fantastic research tool. They cover endless aspects of almost any material and you can listen to them in the car, at your day job (maybe) or while you’re running errands. I’m currently in a production that draws heavily on cult psychology, and podcasts have been my friend while trying to flesh out that mindset.
  3. Library. Don’t forget! You can actually check out real, honest to God books! Occasionally, if what you’re researching is obscure enough, books will offer more comprehensive and specific insight into your character. If you feel out of touch with this ancient institution, find a librarian to guide you in your quest for knowledge. They are super helpful and you don’t have to tell them about the books you never returned in the fourth grade.
  4. Museum. Especially if you’re researching a specific time period or culture, museums are an excellent resource. Actually seeing artifacts from your character’s world is a wonderful way to gain perspective and context. Museums also often have deals and discounts if you do some digging.
  5. Back to School. If you’re still struggling, check out your local higher education institution. See if you can reach out to experts on relevant topics. If you can’t bribe someone with coffee for a brain-picking session, maybe you can audit a class or take a tour.
  6. Road trip. If it’s at all viable, physically putting yourself in locations your character may have lived or worked is an excellent way to stimulate your imagination. There’s nothing like being in the right environment to inform specific acting choices.


This is just the beginning. Research resources are all around you. Get creative and use your senses. If you can’t be where your character would be, consume what they would have consumed. Build the right environment by eating the foods they would eat, listening to the right music, wearing the right clothes and consuming the right media. There are a thousand ways to put yourself in your character’s shoes. Experiment with different methods and find out what sparks your imagination!

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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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