Updated: Sep 21
When I was a teenager, my family regularly vacationed in Door County, Wisconsin. One of the favorite activities for the parents and older siblings was to see a play by the Door Shakespeare company at their outdoor theater. Over the years, we witnessed some entertaining mishaps and "mishaps" during these plays:
When we saw Much Ado About Nothing, the actor playing Benedick had a big false mustache as part of his makeup. But early in the play, the mustache started falling off during his soliloquy. After multiple attempts to salvage his 'stache, including turning around and delivering his lines over his shoulder while trying to press the thing back onto his face, Benedick finally gave us a look that said, "Forget this." He ripped off the mustache, threw it on the ground--much to everyone's amusement--and kept going. (As we soon discovered, he was supposed to "shave" between that scene and the next one, so it worked out.)
When we saw The Comedy of Errors, a cold rain started late in the final act. It wasn't raining hard enough to stop the show, but I felt really sorry for the balding actor playing Egeon. As everyone was trying to sort out the mixed-up twins once and for all, the Abbess entered. Saying, "Hail, Duke," she opened an umbrella over herself as if nothing unusual were happening. (I suspect her costume was too expensive to risk getting it wet.) The ensuing family reunion involved multiple people trying to crowd underneath the umbrella with her.
Door Shakespeare always had at least two shows going on throughout each summer, so they used a clever advertising technique. During intermission, two actors who weren't in the next scene would switch into their costumes from the other play. Right after intermission, these actors would come onstage and start acting out a scene from said play--until one of the managers would come out to "set them straight." * Once this happened with a man and a woman doing a scene from Tartuffe (I think), complete with enormous seventeenth-century wigs. Upon being "corrected," the man turned to the audience and said, "And you guys just let us . . . ?" The woman quipped, "You put on a silly wig for nothing." (Though she was one to talk, considering she also had one on. 😁)
In our writing, similar things happen to our characters. Rarely does anything in fiction (or real life, for that matter) go exactly according to plan; if it did, there'd be no story. However, every setback--from annoyances like losing a false mustache to catastrophes like failing to save the target of an assassination--gives us a chance to reveal more about our characters' personalities:
Do they get upset when they fail? If so, how upset?
Do they try to make a joke out of the situation, no matter how bleak?
Do they take the failure personally?
Do they blame themselves, others, fate, etc.?
Do they try to hide their real feelings?
In the face of failure, do they give up easily or double down on their efforts?
How long does it take them to recover from the setback?
Reactions tell us a lot about a character. So give your audience a chance to see your characters react to all sorts of situations.