Category Archives: Musical theatre

Movement for Non-Actors (Part 3) – It’s the Little Things

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.

NervesEye contact & Posture

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.

Gestures

public-speakingGesture 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!

PropsCups of Tea

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.

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?

Movement for Non-Actors: Part 1- Why Move?

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?

Eponine

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.

Kate Monster

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.

Starting Point

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.

Making Choices

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!