Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Movement is LIFE

I'm a kinesthetic actor.

I like to mooooooooooove and feel the energy flow. I'm a better actor when I'm out of my head and in my body, even if I do consider all the head work absolutely necessary to get me to where I can just feel the part.

Tonight's rehearsal was about working on making Joseph real through movement, paying more attention to communicating with my body and energy more than the words. It's been a struggle to explore the physicality of the role so far--we've generally only run thru the play once per night and I sit thru the entire scene, so there hasn't been much time to play.

But I finally had a night off last night and took some time playing at home exploring the movement vocabulary that is available to Joseph while sitting.

A Quick Trip Down Memory Lane...

The exercise brought back fond memories of acting classes with Jack Clay at the UW. Our studio was in Hutchinson Hall, a 75 year-old gymnasium with a wooden basketball floor, sunlight streaming in from windows 14 feet in the air, a playing area ringed with heavy black curtains and topped with a mish-mash of steel pipes suspended from the ceiling to create a light grid. This was my lab, my temple, my sanctuary, my love for many years.

In one of our very earliest classes--we (a class of 12) did an exercise to see how many different ways we could sit on a chair. It was a mad, frenetic dash of joyful creativity--each of us running up to the chair, trying a new way of sitting on it that gave an 'attitude' or expressed something. We'd try 1-2 poses and then hop off, the next person racing to the chair until we finally ran out of ideas and started repeating ourselves.

I don't recall our final tally, but it was in excess of 100. Something like 113, but I wouldn't swear to that, and it doesn't matter. The lesson was to explore the possibilies that exists for expression even in such a confined space as a chair, and not to limit ourselves to convention.

So tonight's rehearsal was for exploring my expressiveness while sitting...


One of the most important things I do in building a character is pick a character movement shape and personality type using Laban dance movement.

In a (very small) nutshell, Laban revolutionized the dance world in the 1920's and 30's with the publication of his theories analyzing the qualities that constitute dance (life) movement and defining 8 types of action movements: Float, Punch, Glide, Slash, Dab, Wring, Flick, and Press.

These descriptions are essentially the ONLY 8 movements that constitute the entire vocabulary describing how living things move. (and Laban also devises a movement notation system for choreographers that is still used today)

That's probably a little too ethereal a description, so go ahead and do some of those gestures while you're sitting at the keyboard right now. Make a "glide" motion with your hand.

Now make a wringing motion.

And finally, make a "flick" motion.

Did you notice how the quality of each movement felt differently? Making a gliding motion might feel light, but the wringing motion feels more labored and heavy.

Or flicking something is a very indirect action, like shooing a fly, but one glides in a direct line. (and if a glide moves in an indirect motion, it's called a float)

Now...take a leap of faith with me and embrace that all those types of movement shapes (Float, Punch, Glide, Slash, Dab, Wring, Flick, and Press) are also types of personalities.

Are You My Type?

Are you short, blunt and to the point? You're a Punch. Can you focus for long periods of time on difficult problems? You might be a Press. What would we call someone who acts like a stereotypical 'dumb blonde'? A Float. A silly little twit might be a Dab. A person who worries all the time--a wring.

And so on, for each of the 8 movement/personality types.

So part of my process is to pick which type of action/personality shape my character might be.

Once I know which personality fits, I automatically get a whole vocabulary of movements to try out. How do I gesture? Quickly? Deliberately? With great purpose or seemingly nonchalantly? direct and to the point, or wildly?

If I know the personality type, I now know the quality of the character's movement. And that's what I was exploring tonight in rehearsal...what type of Laban shape and personality is Joseph?

Try it out for yourself--it's fun!

Do this:
  • actually make gestures with your hands and arms in each of the 8 motion shapes.
  • Float, Punch, Glide, Slash, Dab, Wring, Flick, and Press
  • walk around the room as if that gesture fills up your entire body and changes your walk
  • What would it feel like to have a walk that floated across the room? Walk like that.
  • Or flicked across the room? Walk like that.
  • Or slashed? (make sure there is no furniture in the way)
It's a little abstract I know, but try it...and you'll start to feeeeeeel it. What kind of attitude do you get when you glide? Is it different than when you wring? Or dab?

Each of us is one of these 8 personality types, more or less. I won't say which one I'm choosing for the play, but as for myself personally, I like to think of myself as a glide...

...but I think the truth is that I'm really a press.

Would you agree with that or not? Which personality/movement type best describes YOU?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

CONNECT with the words

Good rehearsal tonight--enjoyed a nice lingering afterglow and gathered some momentum from the last 'over-acting' rehearsal.

The direction to go over the top really blew out the cobwebs and has freed me up to be bolder, follow impulses and really clarify my point of view. The director really likes what I'm doing--I'm no judge of myself, in any event. (it's very, very rare when I'm pleased with my work.) Some of what I'm doing feels right, and some of it feels like I'm floundering, but if the director likes it, then I'm happy.

Using my sculpting analogy, I'm lopping off huge chunks of clay right now so the shape is recognizable. I have a week yet to polish and maybe add some fine detail.

The detail, of course, is what makes a thing beautiful and transcendent. I strive for that in my work--I'm sure I miss it more often than not, but it's all I know how to do, is to chase it. It's my motivation for being in the theater--that moment when everything congeals into something beautiful on stage and my body and soul are part of an amazing, transcendent experience. You can feel it on stage and oh yeah... it is an addictive drug.

Transcendence happens...

... when the actors connect to the character's feelings, with the words that they say, with each other and with the audience. When the audience is drawn in to the characters, the cycle is a tsaheylu connection in Avatar.

When you don't have it, you want it. When you have it, you want it to last longer. As soon as it's over, you want it again. But it's powerful enough to tide you over for quite some time.

Performers of all stripes know this feeling.

And the difference between being beautiful and being transcendent is sooooooo fine that it's barely noticeable, but it makes all the difference in the world. Check out the two vids below of the song Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. (I'll bet you didn't know that more famous 1986 version starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin was a remake of Roger Corman's film from 1960)

In the first video, pop star Mandy Moore and Broadway vet Adam Pascal sing the song. Pascal gained his fame as one of the leads in Rent, and Mandy Moore has been a touring staple for years. She once turned down the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, so she is well-thought of as a live performer. They both have serious vocal chops.

So yes..they sing the hell out of the song--there's no doubt that both of them have beautiful voices if you close your eyes and just listen. But...they are both more in love with their voices and themselves in the song than each other.

It's not quite transcendent. They don't connect with each other, and the audience doesn't really connect with them. It's lovely and some people will mistake it for something incredible. It's a very pretty song.


Check out this version sang by Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. Technically, they don't have anywhere near the voices of Pascal and Moore. They are both what would be called 'character' voices. But they sure can act.

Note the *connection* between the two...even when they move apart, you still get the feeling that they are connected to each other, no? The camera work is better in the film version of course, but can you feel yourself sucked into the story...and notice that you start to feel what each character is feeling?

More importantly...the actors connect simply with the words of the song. They don't go for the pretty sounding note--we feel like they actually mean what they are saying. They just happen to be saying it to a tune.

By the end...we are totally connected as an audience with the characters and the actors and the song. We haven't just heard a pretty love song, we watched....and participated in a transcendent event- the very instant when two people fell in love.

Subconsciously, by bearing witnessing to that moment we actually transport ourselves to the moment (or moments) when WE have fallen in love. If we were in a theater with someone, we might squeeze the hand of the person we're with, or cast a glance their way. It's a poignant moment we want to share.

Imagine that...a whole audience falls in love at the same time--that's pretty transcendent.

It's a good reminder for me, this most basic of all acting lessons: CONNECT with the words. If I'm lucky, something beautiful and transcendent might happen.

Just mean what you say. How hard is that?