Film & TV

What Is a Persona? Tips on Developing an Onstage Persona

Written by MasterClass

May 21, 2019 • 4 min read

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One of the keys to being a successful performer is a strong and confident stage persona, but every successful performing artist is not as loud and confident in their private lives as they are onstage. Artists rely on a carefully constructed stage persona while performing to give themselves the freedom and permission to act in ways that might not come naturally to them when they’re offstage.


What Is a Stage Persona?

A stage persona is the personality and character an artist adopts in performance. The word persona is the Latin word for “mask,” and the concept of a stage persona has existed since humans started telling narratives. Stage personas can be distinct fictional characters or heightened versions of an artist’s own personality, but the persona generally remains constant from performance to performance.

3 Reasons to Create a Stage Persona

A separate stage persona is a useful tool for actors or musicians:

  • Extroversion. A person can be a more heightened and emotional version of a performer’s private self, helping them be an extroverted person onstage.
  • Liberation. Some artists find that creating a distinct stage persona can liberate them to do things in live performance that they wouldn’t otherwise do in their private life.
  • Seperation. A persona also gives artists a way of protecting and separating their private family lives and choosing what they share with the general public.

5 Tips on Creating an Effective Stage Persona

Creating a good stage persona can take years. Building a stage persona is a process of experimentation: experimenting with yourself and your own personality, and experimenting with your audience’s reaction to your persona. Ultimately, the process of experimenting with your personal will help you find your voice and take your art to the next level. Consider these tools as you work through your own stage persona:

  1. Incorporate your offstage personality. Instead of pushing against their natural instincts, many performers choose to incorporate them into their stage personas. Utilizing your natural voice can make the transition from normal life to performance that much easier. Comedian Mitch Hedberg was shy and antisocial in his private life. Rather than fighting his somewhat timid and awkward nature, he incorporated it into his public persona. In his standup act, he would appear with sunglasses on, staring at the ground, and delivering jokes with an awkward staccato patter. Though this persona would be hard for most to pull off, it felt authentic to Hedberg and was seamlessly incorporated into his onstage persona.
  2. Explore a voice you find freeing. Some performers find that creating a wholly new voice can help them unlock their creative potential. David Bowie was shy in his private life so, in order to overcome his timid offstage personality, he created the character Ziggy Stardust. Bowie’s persona Ziggy Stardust was a hedonistic and bombastic rockstar fronting an intergalactic band. The Ziggy character allowed Bowie to break out of his personality and inhabit someone totally different onstage.
  3. Emulate artists you admire. Pay close attention to the artists that inspire you. Amy Winehouse is known for her iconic voice and contemporary blue eyed soul music, but it wasn’t until her teenage years that Winehouse started listening to soul. Once she discovered artists like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, she was able to craft her own iconic style and find the voice and persona that would make her legendary. You might find a good stage persona simply through picking up traits that you admire from performers that influence you.
  4. Find a safe space to experiment. All performance is trial and error. Even the most effortless, natural performers have put years and years of practice into honing their style and voice. Lady Gaga got her start in cabarets and small music venues around New York City and took a long time to craft her signature look and style. Find a community or theatre that gives you support and stage time to practice and perfect your stage persona.
  5. Commit and practice. Great artists commit wholeheartedly to their craft. The most important part of creating an onstage stage persona is to build your chops through practice. Bob Dylan grew up as Robert Zimmerman in rural Minnesota. When he decided to try his hand at folk music, he changed his name (in of honor the poet Dylan Thomas) and adopted an idiosyncratic singing style and caustic offstage personality that became hallmarks of his persona. His onstage commitment to the persona and voice were key to developing his style and increasing his popularity. The more stage time a performer has under their belt, the more they know about their strengths and weaknesses as an artist.

An onstage persona requires complete trust and dedication from the artist behind the mask. A persona may feel artificial at first, but the more you commit and experiment with the persona, the more natural it will start to feel.

Learn more about performing onstage in Judd Apatow’s MasterClass.