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?

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