Defining a Character with Morgan & West
April 9th, 2020
audience, character, creativity, performance, scripting
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Jonah is joined by both Morgan & West this week to talk about scripting, creating an atmosphere, and understanding how character should influence your choices. Morgan & West are magicians, time-travellers & all round spiffing chaps who spend their time touring their shows around the U.K.
Morgan & West met in University through theatre productions. Independently, the two of them had begun to learn card tricks, so they started to egg each other on to keep practicing. In 2008, they did a stage show as magicians. While it wasn’t very good, they were able to learn a lot from the experience. Their reason for jumping into performing was simple: sitting in their bedroom doing card tricks was going to help become performers. You have to start making what you want to do to eventually reach the vision you have in your head.
Morgan & West have six different shows under their belts. While the small U.K. touring scene is a factor as to why they have so many, they explain that, really, they just get bored and want a challenge. Writing a show is a skill and the only way to get better at it is by creating more of them. Everytime they approach a new show, their goal is to create something bigger, better and more ambitious than the previous one. And the creation of the show extends beyond simply what they’re saying on stage.
Morgan & West approach their shows with the phrase “pack large, play medium.” They don’t shy away from bringing in sets to set a mood before the show even begins. When the audience walks into the theatre and sees the sets on stage, hear the music setting the tone, and see the two of them bantering before the show, the audience is more likely to give the duo five minutes of their time at the outset. By improving the overall feel of the show, Morgan & West are promising their audience they’re going to have an experience.
Working as a Duo
According to Morgan & West, working as a duo is a lot easier than working solo. As a duo, they can independently find material, pitch it to the other, and then have a conversation about how to best adapt the material to their characters. Through these conversations, they’re able to flesh out concepts and turn them into acts that better suit their characters. On the other end of it, the other acts as an editor, pointing out when certain concepts won’t work; these instances are often followed by long conversations to understand why one person doesn’t like a particular idea.
Scripting works the same way. While Morgan is better at developing material while on the stage, West is better at putting ideas down on the stage. Between the two of them, they’re able to edit the content down and find the moments that work. With this in mind, they are constantly shaping their performances, discussing what did and didn’t work after their shows.
Developing Authentic Characters
You don’t need to be a time traveller or a dragon to be a character. A good character, simply put, is a combination of traits and shticks that establish who “you” as a performer are to the audience. Alongside giving you a foundation to follow while making performance decisions (i.e. blocking or effect selection), a character also helps to make magic less confrontational for the audience; they know that you know that this isn’t real, allowing them to swallow a bigger lie as you tell them smaller lies to pull off your effects.
The way of creating good bits for your character is to fundamentally understand your character. Write some lines. See how you feel about what you’ve written? What works? What doesn’t? Understand why you do and don’t like certain aspects, and then rewrite. With that in mind, don’t force a certain character on yourself; you have to enjoy it or else the audience won’t. At the end of it all though, you have to understand why you’re making certain choices.
Take Home Point
The first is to know and understand what decisions you’re making and why. The second point is the only way to get good at something, is by constantly doing that thing.
Morgan & West’s new book: Parlour Tricks