If you’re preparing for an LCM Musical Theatre Performance exam, you might have noticed this rather ominous line in the syllabus:
…dance and movement are encouraged and expected, and credit will be given for appropriate dance and other movement which is in context and is integral to, and enhances the performance of, the pieces… (p14, section 2.5.2, emphasis added)
To the first study singer, this kind of instruction can strike fear in the heart of even the most confident. So, how do you start to bring movement and dance into your performances? In this post, I’ll talk about movement, and then in a future post I’ll discuss dance.
Why Do I Need to Move?
Standing still in the middle of the stage makes a statement. It’s very intense, and it’s very direct to the audience. Some songs are definitely those kinds of songs, but most of them aren’t. Think about it. How many times have you seen someone be completely static in a musical? Have a look at this example from Ghost. Although most of the song is static, there’s still a point at which Molly moves (at 3:35). Note how the choice to move conveys a change of mood as the song breaks from the sad and depressing verse to an angry bridge.
Movement is just as important as the music in helping the audience to understand the meaning of a song. Just as you map your song vocally, you’ll need to map your song out physically. Here are some questions to help you start figuring out how to build in movement:
- Who am I talking to? Am I singing to the audience or another character on stage, or who has just left the stage? e.g. There’s a Fine, Fine, Line (Avenue Q) is directed at the audience, but Daddy’s Girl (Grey Gardens) is sung to Jack, and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables) is directed at God.
- Is there a particular point where the mood changes? e.g. With You (Ghost) or Still Hurting (The Last Five Years)
- Do the lyrics describe what I’m doing? e.g. in On My Own, Eponine talks about walking through the streets.
- Are there instrumental sections where you aren’t singing?
Grab a copy of your music, or the lyrics, and in pencil write the person to whom you’re talking to on the top. Then mark in the other points in the music. Once you have these key aspects you can begin to map out where and how you’re going to move.
Move with Intention
One of the most important rules in theatrical movement is always move with intention. You don’t, in real life, wonder around aimlessly. You always move for a reason, even if it’s unconcious. Sometimes we move closer or further away from someone to show our feelings about them. We might pace the room to help us think. We move to pick something up or put something down.
The same is true for your character. For every movment you make, you need to make an active and considered choice about why you are moving. As you map out you movement, write in the reasons why you’re moving in pencil next to the action.
Before the beginning of any number, something has already happened to your character. Even if it’s the opening number of the show, the character hasn’t popped into existance at that very moment. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is already in prison. He’s had a whole life before that point which has landed him there in the first place. In the immediate moments before he sings his first solo number, What Have I Done? he has been speaking to the Policemen and the Bishop. This means he will already be on stage, and in a particular location.
In your song, you need to know what has happened before. Write this at the top of your music too. Is it that you have just finished talking to someone? Have you just come on stage? Where are you entering from, or where did the conversation take place? There’s no requirement for anyone to start a solo number in centre stage. Look again at With You from Ghost. Molly sings the whole song downstage left, which adds to the atmosphere of weakness, pain and fear.
From there on, you can make choices that work for you. Perhaps your character gets frustrated and starts to pace? Or they’re happy and they want to dance around? Do they give up by the end and need to collapse on the floor? I sang one performance where I began lying on the floor and slowly stood up towards the end. At each of the change points you’ve marked, make some decisions about whether or not to move and where to go. Look at some videos on YouTube of actual performances and see what aspects you like. A friend of mine has been preparing Steps to the Palace from Into the Woods, and she found it very frustrating that for someone who was supposed to be stuck to the spot according to the lyrics, an awful lot of Cinderellas kept moving around! I, on the other hand, borrowed most of the movement from the original show for The Wizard and I from Wicked.
In Part Two
On Thursday, you can pick up on part two of this post, where I’ll talk about how you can use space, levels, eyes, gesture and props to help bring movement to your performance.
What do you do to help bring more movement into your performances for Musical Theatre? Add your tips in the comments below!