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Acting Your Song: Character Motivation

Before singing a song, you want to know a few things. You want to know what happened just before this song to motivate your character to sing and say the words. Why does your character sing, and how does your character intend to overcome any obstacles?

Some songs aren’t from a musical or opera. For these songs, you need to do enough work with the text that your imagination leads you to the right answers.

Some event usually motivates the character to sing a song. Maybe the character has a problem to overcome, is in a predicament he wants to change, or wants to help someone. The character needs some sort of predicament, good or bad, to sing. The obstacles the character encounters also are pretty important.

The predicament or obstacle can be unrequited love, happiness so intense you have to tell the world, or a bad relationship that you don’t know how to end.

Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! sings “The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends” because she wants the men to stop fighting and get along. In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Lion is motivated to sing “If I Were The King of the Forest” because he wants courage and he’s tired of being afraid.

Another song with a specific motivation is “Return to Sender,” which you may have heard Elvis Presley sing. He’s motivated to sing the song because his letters keep coming back, even though he’s said he’s sorry, and it’s breaking his heart.

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