As we have been discussing in previous posts, the use of movement in a performance is always tied to the information you’re trying to communicate to your audience. So far, we’ve talked about the big movements – walking around and changing levels. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few of the smaller things that are really important.
One of the key ways we communicate with others is through our eye-contact, or lack thereof. If you want to appear confident, or in charge of the situation, you’re likely to look someone directly in the eye. If you’re afraid or someone, or aware you’re in the wrong, you’ll probably avoid looking at that person’s eyes as much as possible.
Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to establish where you should be looking, and how you should be standing:
- What status does your character have? Are they a powerful person in society or a weak one? A pauper or a king?
- What relationships does your character have with others who are on stage during the song?
- How does your character feel about themselves? Do they feel confident or insecure? This will determine how you look at the audience.
- How do these feelings change throughout the song? Does your character increas in confidence through the song, or do they get more insecure?
One of the exercises that is really good to do, is to try to communicate your status just through posture and eyecontact. Practice this with your teacher.
Inhabiting the body of your character is very important, so you could also try a technique called “hot seating” where your teacher asks you questions and you have to respond as though you were this character. By thinking like the character, you will find your body responds to your thoughts and moves like your character.
I hope to do a series on characterisation in the future to help with just this issue.
Gesture is a tricky area in theatrical performance. Many people do talk with their hands, so standing still is unnatural, but you don’t want to be waving them around aimlessly, or worse, in a choreographed “hand dance”.
We usually gesuture to emphasise particular things we are saying. Consider where the most important lines are in your song. These are the points where you should consider moving your hands. To take an example, in the Gilbert & Sullivan song A Lady Fair of Lineage High, there’s a repeated line: “but it would not do / his scheme fell through” which has an accompaniment that is emphatic too. When performing this song, I chose to make a repeated gesture at the same time as singing these lines to emphasise the shortcomings of the character the song is speaking about. You might want to consider similar actions.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s a natural action, and a simple action. Unless you are deliberately communicating the whole song through Sign Language, too many motions which interpret specific words will look downright weird!
The final aspect I want to mention is props. The LCM syllabus encourages the use of props and costume, and so I always encourage students to use a prop in at least one song. This might be anything from a ruler to a suitcase. Including props creates simple movement and action, and helps to communicate character and meaning.
If you want to make use of props, start by selecting your prop carefully. You want something simple, small and safe. An entire car is probably unrealistic, but a mocked up steering wheel might be do-able. Don’t use any props which involve fire, chemicals, or liquids etc. If you want to drink, it’s much safer to mime the wine than to try to pour it while singing, slop it on the floor and end up slipping over in your next number. Note that in the UK, at least, smoking is not permitted indoors, so you’ll need to keep cigarettes fake or unlit. Over the years, I have used folded letters, lipstick, picnic baskets, rulers, suitcases, and mugs.
Whatever you choose, mark all your actions into your score so you can rehearse them.
Oh, and don’t forget to pack your props on the day of your exam!
That’s the end of the whistlestop tour of movement for non-actors. I hope to come back in a week or two and talk about choreography for non-dancers, and also look at characterisation for singers. If you’re interested in any of these, click the RSS feed at the top right to subscribe to the blog.
In the meantime, do any of you have tips on how to add movement into your performances? Add them in the comments below.