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In theatre (especially in the illusionistic Western tradition), breaking character occurs when an actor ceases to maintain the illusion that he is identical with the character he is portraying. This is a more acceptable occurrence while in the process of rehearsal but is considered unprofessional while actively performing in front of an audience or camera (except when the act is a deliberate breaking of the fourth wall). If the breaking of character is particularly serious, it is considered corpsing, which in film or television would normally result in an abandonment of that take.
One of the most common definitions for breaking character usually refers to the actor laughing or chuckling while playing in his own scene against his own intent to have retained serious composure.
The advent of DVD players, with the use of their precise pause and slow-motion functions, has made it far easier to spot breaks in character in motion pictures, and many internet sites collect such examples.
Examples of breaking character in movies include:
Examples of actors breaking character on television include:
Performers of live theater are renowned for never breaking character, even under dire circumstances. An extreme example of this occurred in Washington, D.C. in the year 2000 when Nana Visitor and Vicki Lewis starred in the Broadway tour of Chicago . Lewis broke her ankle halfway through the third number, and the other dancers completed the number around her while attempting to cover the injury as Lewis was escorted off stage. Then, as the dancers exited, another actress seamlessly pranced onto stage and announced, in character, that a "sexy new fox is gonna be playing Velma Kelly, but don't you cats get confused."[ citation needed ]
Breaking character or corpsing is also being used more frequently to describe a participant-player who, having assumed the role of a virtual character or avatar and is acting within a virtual or gaming environment, then breaks out of that character.For example, this could be a player-character behaving inappropriately within the social-cultural environment depicted by the virtual or gaming environment or the participant-player ceasing to interact-play (momentarily or entirely) leaving the character suspended and/or lifeless.
Breaking character is not solely limited to performances in traditional theater, television, and film; the phenomenon is not unheard of in professional wrestling, which is normally highly scripted. WWE commentator Jim Ross once famously broke character during a match in which WWE wrestler (and friend of Ross) Mick Foley took a 16-foot "bump" (fall) through the roof of a steel cage structure known as Hell in a Cell. Ross exclaimed, "Will somebody stop the damn match?!" While phrases such as that are often used by professional wrestling commentators to make matches seem more legitimate, Ross later stated that he made the comment out of character, being seriously worried for his friend (who had, indeed, suffered a severe concussion as a result of the fall). Later on in the match, Ross broke character by calling Mick "the toughest son of a bitch he had ever seen, period,"[ citation needed ], before covering for himself by adding, "...in this sort of environment" [i.e. the cell itself].
Much of the WWF roster broke character in 1999 when Owen Hart fell to his death from the rafters of Kemper Arena in Kansas City; much of the onscreen drama of the WWE was similarly shunted aside in 2005 for some weeks after the death of Eddie Guerrero. In 2007, after the death of the Benoit family, Vince McMahon was forced to abandon the storyline of his "death," appearing out of character to speak about the incident and its repercussions. In 2008 the night Ric Flair retired on WWE Raw, numerous wrestlers broke kayfabe, including Edge, Randy Orton, Paul "Big Show" Wight, as well as The Undertaker broke character when they sobbed and hugged Flair after the show. In April 2011 when Edge came to the ring and announced his retirement, he had broken his character. There were no pyros at his entrance music and when he went backstage, all WWE Superstars hugged him and acknowledged him. Dolph Ziggler was also seen hugging Edge, where Dolph came out of character (or broke his character) and was a "face" at that moment in time, otherwise he is a heel when he is in character.[ citation needed ]
Another famous incident of "breaking character" belongs to Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Scott Hall in 1996 at Madison Square Garden during "The MSG Incident". Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were both jumping ship from WWE (or World Wrestling Federation at the time) to WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and this night was the last contractual night that Hall and Nash had with WWE. The four men were part of a group known in the back stage area as "The Kliq" along with Sean Waltman. At a major WWE event, the four men were involved in two separate matches. Scott Hall faced off with Triple H earlier in the evening; with Shawn Michaels taking on Kevin Nash later. After the latter match, the four men embraced in a hug after Scott Hall entered the ring to hug with Shawn Michaels (which was not seen as a problem as both men were "faces" at the time) but then afterwards, Triple H had entered the ring and all four men then embraced in a group hug in one of the corners and then all had stood in the ring facing the crowd with raised arms.[ citation needed ]
In Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci , commedia dell'arte actor Canio kills his real-life wife and her lover onstage.
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Corpsing is British theatrical slang for unintentionally laughing during a non-humorous performance or when a role in a humorous performance is intended to be played "straight". In North American TV and film, this is considered a variation of breaking character or simply "breaking". The origin of the term corpsing itself is unclear, but may come from provoking an actor into laughing while portraying a corpse. There are many visible examples of corpsing, for example in performers who are portraying sleeping or unconscious characters.
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'You always cracked up!' says Franco.
...Fallon ... often had difficulty keeping a straight face. In a new interview, Fallon recalls why he broke up in the middle of the famous 'More Cowbell' sketch...