Movement for Non-Actors (Part 2) – Where?

Mary Poppins

As we talked about on Tuesday, movement isn’t normally part of a singer’s repertoire, but it becomes vitaly important in musical theatre.

However, once you’ve worked out why you’re moving, it’s time to work out where to go.

Geography of the Stage

In this post, I’m going to give a quick run-down of some of the different places you can move to, and ways in which you can move there to help you develop a plan for your song.

One of the first considerations is where on the stage you will stand. Will you go for front and centre, or back and off to the side? Each choice says something different about how you character is feeling, and how s/he relates to others.

Stage Geography

Front and centre is the most powerful location on the stage. No other actor can get in front of you, and you can speak right to the audience. For a song like Maybe This Time from Cabaret, you might want to select a front and centre position, and stay quite static too. Something more tragic, and uncertain such as I Dreamed a Dream might feel a bit odd sung from that location.

Conversely, the back of the stage suggests weakness. You’re easily overshadowed by other actors and the set from the back of the stage, and you need to really project to be heard. It’s rare to find an entire solo sung from the back of the stage, but many a number begins at the back and moves forwards as the character develops.

Character or plot development pieces like Daddy’s Girl from Grey Gardens often end up in the middle of the stage. Front and centre breaks the imaginary fourth wall of the room, and speaks to the audience. If a song is directed at a character on stage, then it makes sense to be mid-stage, well inside the imaginary room.

Off to one side or the other of the stage is a good location for narrative songs, or for introspective songs, as the character has removed themselves from the action and can look from the side of the stage over to the events of the story.

Levels

It’s important to consider not just where on the stage you are, but what kind of position you take in that location. When directors talk about “levels” they are referring to whether an actor is standing, sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, or lying down. You can think of it as what “level” your head is on. In some shows, such as the opening number of Wicked, levels can even mean flying in from overhead!

Standing up is a confident and pro-active position. A big solo number with a very definite mood like I Am What I Am might be stood throughout. Character and plot development numbers might also involve standing, depending on the context.

Lying down on stage

Sitting down is often a sign of meakness or uncertainty. It can also be a sign of reflection or introspection. A number like Still Hurting usually starts with an actor sitting down as it’s a reflective song, dealing with painful issues. Sitting down on the floor can have a similar effect of sadness as in With You from Ghost, or it can be a relaxed and optimistic act as in By The Sea from Sweeney Todd.

Lying down is either result of the events leading up to the song, or absolute emotional brokenness. Being horizontal can make breathing difficult, so this should be used with care, but it can be very dramatic and communicate strong emotions.

Making the Move

Movement means choosing where you’re going to start and then when and where you’re going to move to. Go back to the score you’ve marked up and start by thinking where you are going to be when the introduction plays, or you say the preceeding lines. From there, at each point where the emotional story of the song changes, you should consider moving to another part of the stage, or changing your level. If you get sadder, move away from the centre of the stage or sitting down. If you get angry, stand up and move forward. Happier people also tend to move more, and faster. Think about how you move when you feel particular emotions.

Don’t be afraid to move while singing too. If a bridge or chorus builds towards a new emotion, you could make the transition as you sing.

Whatever you decide to do, make a note in the music as to exactly when you are going to move, and where you are going. Practice the movement to a recording of someone else singing before you try the movement while you are singing.

I hadn’t intended this, but there’s so much to say that I’ll conclude this with a third part next Tuesday talking about smaller kinds of movement such as eyecontact and gesture.

In the meantime, are there areas of the stage that you think have particular meaning? How do you map out the stage, or use levels to show emotion?

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