The worried performer had nowhere to go. Or so they thought.
All bottled up with nerves running high, the performer looked harried. Their clock was wound tight as is the case with so many who step in front of seeming unfriendlies. With 3 minutes max on their content, the stress locked them up. In body and thought.
“Stuck?” I said, trying to give them an out.
“I don’t know where to go!” the Actor lamented. “I don’t feel like I can even move.”
I understand their feeling. In what should be one of the safest environments, presenting to colleagues in a workshop with everyone else having to present too, it seems like things should be easier. But it’s like living in a small town—the great thing is, everyone knows all about you. The bad thing is, everyone knows all about you.
“How ‘bout we try this again, press the reset button?” I encouraged, standing and joining the actor onstage (the front of our classroom). The performer made way for me, feeling good to move from the sticking spot. “A good breath, shake off the old stuff, start from the beginning and just talk to us. Tell us what you want us to know.”
The reset began with a much more conversational tone—good stuff. But soon enough the Actor’s eyes started searching, darting from colleague to next. Excess energy, from whatever source was making its way back into the performance.
“Right there, feel that?” I said, stopping the dialogue.
“Yes, I do,” they sighed.
“Keep talking with us but now just talk to one person. Don’t worry about the rest of us, we can hear you,” I directed.
The Actor started in again and did well talking to just one supporter who gave them extra-attentive eyes. But after about three sentences, some jitters started to appear in the performer’s legs. Their feet started to wander.
“Good!” I interjected. “How are you feeing now?”
“Like this is getting boring. I’m not doing anything and I have been talking to one person for a long time.”
“Yes, and your body started telling us that. Your legs and feet were getting restless. It looks like you want to move.”
“Yeah I guess but I’m supposed to talk to one person!” Here came the excess energy, now vocally. Could the performer’s inner self talk we would have heard this a long time ago.
“Exactly, and you did that. But now you’re getting the feeling that it’s time to move. So where could you go?”
“To the bathroom,” the Actor shot back followed by co-workers supporting laughter.
“Or, you could go talk to someone else,” I continued. “How about Rebecca? She’s way over on the other side of the room. Look at her, and while you’re telling us the next part of your story, cross over to Rebecca. Then stop and tell her a few more things.”
The Actor tried this, was very conversational and engaging as they moved to their co-worker and had a nice talk with efficient energy in play. Then we stopped, checked in on how it was going, had the presenter just look at another person while being still, then move to yet another Audience member. We looked at other places to move to in the room, and classmates suggested several spots they thought would be good.
Why in the world would we spend time breaking it down like this, when it seems so natural and obvious?
Because the Actor’s energy told us to. It had nowhere to go. So we gave it Destination.
Today, notice how many times you move, or gesture, even look WITHOUT each movement having a destination. I bet there aren’t many. Or, notice when you have no place to go—you don’t have to be anywhere (ahhhh, freedom!). Now the body becomes wonderfully relaxed and free (just what we want as effective Actors!). You may even get to loosen your shoulders or neck, breathe, just be….
Movement has Destination. It is incredibly efficient when there’s purpose. But getting into Audience/Actor territory, those eyes and ears observing us can produce aimless energy that longs to go somewhere, and DO something. It’s going to wander until it finds a home.
The encouragement for us as Actors is to be still right where we are until a clear destination is identified. Then, as we become more accomplished, we purposefully build in movement with clear destinations as points of variety and emphasis. Be careful though, you creative thespians—you must respect the unforgiving rules of being Seen and Heard! You can stretch them, but if you break them your Audience is gone.
Your stage. Your performance. And with Destination in mind and body, you’re on!