Character & Persona (Updated: 01/05/18)

In butoh, there may be vague line between character and persona, and the two may even merge at times, expressing yet another false dichotomy like that of separated mind/body. Rachel Rosenthal says of the distinctions: “In acting, or playing a character, you want to impersonate the personality of a person that is not yourself. A persona, however, is an artifact, a fabrication, that corresponds to what you want to project from yourself, from within. It is like taking a facet, a fragment, and using that as a seed to elaborate on. It is you and yet not you – a part of you but not the whole. It is not a lie but neither the full truth.”¹

Richard Schechner sees no difference between the two distinctions. “‘Me behaving as if I am someone else’ or ‘as if I am beside myself, or not myself’ […] may also be ‘me in another state of feeling/being,’ as if there were multiple ‘me’s’ in each person.”² Whether persona, character, or both, the most important thing is that we attempt to reach from within the subbody in some way.

Generally, characters in the theater world are of human qualias, but characters in butoh do not need to be human. Tatsumi Hijikata was not only a dancer, but a poet, and was constantly documenting his discoveries and characters. Characters can be pulled by the subbody or anywhere else. I recommend crafting a list of character names (the more creative the name, the better). You can even follow them up with descriptions.

Exercise 1: Owning Your Name Calls

Take some time to remember any names whether positive or negative that you were called in life. These can be used as your  new characters. The character can even take on that of a bouffon.

Exercise 2: Naming the Mundane

When we give animate or inanimate objects names, we bring their character to life. It is an identification of the object in question. For instance, name the trees around you. The more creative, the better. If a particular tree provokes another qualia because of its shape or form, this can inspire a name. After a name has been given, a personality or character is created which can be danced.

Transformation Techniques

The following are influenced by character transformation techniques known by Sande Shurin.³ They can be used with both subbody and cobody.

Morphing – Performer transitions from Character A to Character B. The gradient between is very important to feel.

Stealing Gesture  This is a gesture transition where Character A’s end gesture is taken over and used as the beginning gesture for Character B. One can also try not waiting for an “end” to steal but outright stealing at any moment. Stealing will imply that only one character will have the gesture at a time.

Prop Transformation – This is a cobody and prop metamorphosis technique where Character A gives a prop in one context to Character B but Character B has a different context for it.

Character Jumping Wild  This is a jumping wild exercise where there are quick and constant character transitions.

Shifting Mirror Loop  This is a mirroring exercise where two or more participants begin with looping their own personal movements and then eventually come to a middle ground where they are looping the same movement in a mirroring fashion.

Personality “Disorders”

We can draw inspiration and build characters out of unaccepted or marginalized behaviors in society. This is not to say that these behaviors are truly “bad” or “unacceptable” but that this is the way modern western civilization views them or at the very least a select privileged, academic few. In other words, these are the shadows of modern civilization. I prefer to view these classifications as “misunderstood.” Anybody who has them are, to me, “mentally unique” instead of “crazy,” “mentally sick,” or “maladjusted.” One behavior at one side of the planet may be viewed completely different at another side. Besides, if we were to clean the slate completely of all these “disorders,” perhaps that would create a perfectly crafted zombie. Ask your doctor if this numbness is right for you.

Nonetheless, here is a list of 3 cluster groups and the 10 personality “disorders” identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).4

The personalities are broken up into three clusters.

1. Cluster A

Viewed as strange, odd, bizarre, eccentric, and include the paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal “disorders.”

2. Cluster B

Viewed as dramatic or erratic and include the antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic “disorders.”

3. Cluster C

Viewed as anxious or fearful and include the avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive “disorders.”

Now here we have the 10 Personality “Disorders.”5

1. Paranoid Personality Disorder

A pattern of distrust and suspiciousness where others’ motives are seen as mean or spiteful. People with paranoid personality disorder often assume people will harm or deceive them and are reluctant to confide in others or become close to them.

2. Schizoid Personality Disorder

A pattern of detachment from social relationships and a limited range of emotional expression. A person with schizoid personality disorder typically does not seek close relationships, chooses solitary activities and appears indifferent to praise or criticism from others.

3. Schizotypal Personality Disorder

A pattern of acute discomfort in close relationships, distortions in thinking or perception, and eccentric behavior. A person with schizotypal personality disorder may have odd beliefs or magical thinking, odd or peculiar behavior or speech, or may incorrectly attribute meanings to events.

4. Antisocial Personality Disorder

A pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others. A person with antisocial personality disorder may not conform to social norms, may repeatedly lie or deceive others, or may act impulsively.

5. Borderline Personality Disorder

A pattern of instability in personal relationships, emotional response, self-image and impulsivity. A person with borderline personality disorder may go to great lengths to avoid abandonment (real or perceived), have recurrent suicidal behavior, display inappropriate intense anger or have chronic feelings of emptiness.

6. Histrionic Personality Disorder

A pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking. A person with histrionic personality disorder may be uncomfortable when he/she is not the center of attention, consistently use physical appearance to draw attention or show rapidly shifting or exaggerated emotions.

7. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. A person with narcissistic personality disorder may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, take advantage of others or lack empathy.

8. Avoidant Personality Disorder

A pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity to criticism. A person with avoidant personality disorder may be unwilling to get involved with people unless he/she is certain of being liked, be preoccupied with being criticized or rejected, or may view himself/herself as being inferior or socially inept.

9. Dependent Personality Disorder

A pattern of needing to be taken care of and submissive and clingy behavior. A person with dependent personality disorder may have difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance from others or may feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of fear of inability to take care of himself or herself.

10. Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder

A pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism and control. A person with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be preoccupied with details or schedules, may work excessively to the exclusion of leisure or friendships, or may be inflexible in morality and values. (This is NOT the same as obsessive compulsive disorder.)


¹ Rosenthal, Rachael, “The Death Show,” high Performance 2, 1:44-5. (1971). Telephone conversation with author, 8 october, 1984.
² Schechner, Richard, “Introduction: Exit Thirties, Enter Sixties,” Between theater and Anthropology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1985. in Erika Munk (ed.) Stanislavski and America, Greenwhich, CT: Fawcett. 1966.
³ Shurin, Sande, Transformational Acting: A Step Beyond, 2002.
4 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. 372-78. Print.
Parekh, Ranna M.D., M.P.H., What are Personality Disorders?, 2016.