EP #11: Move It or Lose It

Crosses, entrances and exits, sitting or standing, handling props…moving around the stage sounds like it should be a simple matter of doing what you were told to do during blocking rehearsals. But there is so much more than this going on.

Or at least, there should be.

You’re listening to Acting for Community Theatre. A little show with big ideas, stories, acting tips and a lot of heart for community theatre artists. I’m Barbra French.

First, let’s get started with things that fall under the “move it”, or things you should be doing category.

1. Follow your impulses in rehearsal. Now, I realize that all directors don’t work in the same way, but most of us want you to bring your blocking ideas to rehearsal, and good directors will always look for the actor’s impulses to move and encourage their input and ideas. Because for me, that’s a big part of the actor’s job, especially in early to mid rehearsals. If you feel an impulse to move, do so. If the movement in the moment feels right, try it. Make physical offers for your scene partner and for your director. Listen to your instincts, play the action, and move. Even if your director has already set the blocking, if you have a strong impulse to move during rehearsal, why not ask if you can try something? And then if they say yes, go for it.

2. Taking blocking notes. All actors should have their scripts and pencils in hand during rehearsals to take blocking notes. That’s your job. Don’t just depend on the stage manager. Get an easy notation system that you can work with, and write it down.

3. When stillness is better. Music is created by the silence between the notes. And with acting, sometimes, stillness works best to let the action of the play speak more clearly. Stillness can tell us your character doesn’t know what to do, or is overwhelmed, or is silently fuming, or is super confident and standing back, waiting to see how their plan plays out. It can also give the audience a much needed breather after an intense scene. So find the moments of stillness for your character in the play, and see what happens.

4. Support the action and subtext. This is basic. Blocking should follow the action and the subtext of the scene. Is your character about to confront someone? Seduce someone? Dismiss someone? These actions generally should match the movement towards or away from that someone. What is your character thinking in that moment? That’s the subtext. If it’s very different from what they’re saying, use the subtext as your guide. Your blocking rehearsals will go much more smoothly if you follow the action or the subtext that you’re playing.

5. Supporting the character. Some characters are clearly written as introverts or extroverts, as having low or high status, as being confident or nervous. Your physicality should support this, but be careful not to go too far, and rely too heavily on affectations to play your character. If your character has to limp, or fidget, then use that. But always make sure you’re playing the action above all else. Your character is a physical being, and she will be created, in part, by how she stands, moves, handles props, etc. Just be careful on how much you lean on physicalizing your character.

6. Entrances and exits: make very sure that you know where you just came from and what just happened before you enter. When you come on stage, own it. Energize your entrance. Have somewhere to go. something to do, even if it’s just stage business. Drop off your keys, take off your coat, kiss your husband, get a drink…come in with purpose. When exiting, have somewhere to go and something to do when you get there. And unless you are doing a long cross for a specific reason, get close to the exit before you deliver your line. Try to punctuate your exit just as you energized your entrance. Grab your coat, slam the door, bow, blow a kiss, give someone a look to kill…whatever is appropriate.

7. Use props and stage business more effectively. Props are an actor’s best friend. Best friend. Use them. Use your props to make a point, to highlight an action, to tell us what your character is really feeling, or even to create a metaphor. Use your props, because they really are treasures for actors.

8. Use tiny movements to make a moment. Don’t underestimate the little details as the rehearsal process deepens. The long, silent look you give someone, the way you hesitate before taking that drink that you’ve been offered, the three times you change your mind before you exit…these are all the moments that make a character, and a play. Find them. Use them. Enjoy them.

Next, under the “lose it” category, these are things you really shouldn’t be doing. You may need to video tape yourself, or watch some archival footage from a play you’ve done, in order to see if these apply to you. Don’t be surprised if they do.

1. The actor shuffle. We’ve all seen the actor who can’t stand still and is constantly shuffling or shifting his weight back and forth. And all this does is scream “nervous actor here”. So get grounded and find the power and confidence in standing still when there’s no need to move.

2. The overused gesture. Whenever gestures (whether physical or vocal) are repeated over and over again, they lose their meaning and impact. So save the finger points and the shrugs for times when you really want to say something with them.

3. The anchor. Actors (and people) are drawn to touching furniture, other people and even themselves. They put their hands on tables, they lean against columns, they get close to other actors all in an attempt to anchor, stabilize and ground themselves. Even a finger placed on top of a chair will help people feel safer. There’s nothing inherently wrong with anchoring, but notice how often you do it, and strive to get confident enough to stand alone and unattached to anything but the floor and just be there.

4. The uncomfortable stance. Many actors don’t know what to do with themselves on stage. Similar to anchoring, they try to protect themselves by putting their hands in their pockets, crossing their arms, or clasping their hands together in front or behind their bodies, trying to ease the discomfort of being watched by others. Practice standing alone with your hands at your side, open and available to others, and again, find the confidence of just being there.

5. The sloppy stance. Actors who slouch, lean and hunch over on stage probably don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing. But it reads as someone who doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t care about the play, or doesn’t ‘fit in’ somehow with the ensemble. Acting is very physically demanding, and requires a level of energy and focus that can’t be accessed when you’re slouching over. And while many people have a habit of leaning or head titling (myself included), your character probably shouldn’t. Someone who leans or tilts stands out like a sore thumb on stage. Get energized, stand up straight and be present.

Most of these ‘lose it’ habits can be greatly improved by learning about the neutral position and practicing it regularly, even if you aren’t on stage.

Alright, those are my move it or lose notes.

So for now, I’m Barbra French, and thanks for listening.

Try to punctuate your exit, just as you energerized bleah. Try to punctuate your exit, just as you energerized your entr (laughter). Try to punctuate your exit, just as you energized your exit. Your ex ahh!

EP #12: 12 Tips for Learning Your Lines

EP #12: 12 Tips for Learning Your Lines

Actors of all ages struggle with learning their lines. It’s just part of the job that we have to get through until things start to gel. But there are ways of making it easier and more effective. The trick is to find out which ways you learn best, and then use a combination of those.

EP #10 The Problem with Innovation

EP #10 The Problem with Innovation

I love creativity and out of the box thinking, especially when it comes to art. But when I look at all the technological innovation happening with theatrical performance today, I have to ask: is it really theatre?

EP #9 Ten Vocal Hacks to Get Your Lines to the Back Row

EP #9 Ten Vocal Hacks to Get Your Lines to the Back Row

Can I just say, the phrase “vocal hacks” makes me cringe a bit?

Actors: If you’ve ever heard your director say, “I can’t hear you!” and directors: if you can’t seem to get your actor to project to the back, or even the middle row, then this week’s podcast is for you. Here are my top 10 vocal…hmmm…hacks.