Movement is the use of the body to express the character’s story. It is the ability to project inner thoughts, emotions, needs, and wants using the body in motion. It can also reveal something about the character’s life and background. Movement is motivated from the viewpoint of the character, not the actor playing him. It’s justified in the mind of the character and the following are the most prevalent reasons.
To get what I want or need
To express my feelings
To relate to another character or object
To convey my thoughts
To establish a relationship
To do a particular task
To handle an object
To enter or exit a particular space
To move to a comfort zone
To face or avoid confrontation
To gain a better viewing position
Other Aspects Affecting Movement
Age: Child, adolescents, adult, middle age, elderly
Relative Status: Leader, subservient, equal
Profession: Laborer, secretary, manager, executive
Relationship: Lover, friend, associate, stranger, enemy
Upbringing: Pose, manners, posture, education
Self-image: Confident, uncertain, vulnerable
Mental & Physical Agility: Slow, quick, restricted
Impairments: Physical handicaps, illness, substance abuse
The environment: The physical setting, climate, culture
Clothes: Free flowing, inhibiting, stylish, conservative
Making choices about movement is not easy. Our dramatic training focuses heavily on the verbal part of acting. Dialogue is much easier to explain and communicate. The non-verbal, however, demands a conscientious study of life and human behavior, identifying, isolating, and clarifying its messages.
Movement is complex, as there are so many facets to consider. In addition, the study of movement has varying interpretations. However, if we break movement down into categories, then we could select those choices that best suit our character and the story situations. This would simplify the selection process and establish areas for life-study development (people watching). The choices given are examples and do not cover the entire range of selections.
Walking, running, crawling, sitting down, standing up, aerobics, etc.
Isolated: Partial body movements
Giving, throwing, handing
Receiving, catching, taking
Lifting, holding Pulling, dragging Pushing, sliding
Hitting, punching, tapping
Open: Flowing out, free, unrestricted
Closed: Almost withheld, restricted
Weight: Both physical and/or emotional, heavy to light
Intensity: Inner strength behind movement, powerful, weak
Dimensional Aspects: Wide & broad, narrow & small
Tempo: Fast, slow, consistent, changing
Directional Aspects: Straight, meandering, curved, changing
In the following example, the character’s main intention, desire, conflicts with her self-doubts. As a rule, it is difficult to express opposing statements at the same time using only body language. To convey them with clarity, one must first state one, then the other so the audience will perceive the conflict through contrasting body language. It is, however, possible to contrast simultaneously conflicting dialogue against movement. Usually movement will represent the predominate truth.
Alone in her living room, Sheila waits for her blind date to arrive. A timid and shy woman of 37, now divorced 5 months, she grows increasingly anxious with the thought of dating again. Their talk on the phone has raised both expectations and misgivings and now she faces the uncertainties. What movements would you use to show the situation and her feelings as waits for her date and then as the door bell rings?
The main consideration would be the conflict between desire for companionship and her fear of the unknown, her self-doubts. In addition, the obstacles of being timid and shy would increase her apprehension. The conflict would be realized through two sets of movements, one desire driven and the other, that of fear. As she waits, her emotions and intentions would shift back and forth.
I’d begin with her prepping for the date, putting her coat and purse on a chair, checking her watch, and moving to the window to see if her date was arriving. She then turns away from the window, as self-doubts surface. Meandering about, she stops in front of a mirror and looks at herself, seeing Sheila as he might see her. Uncertainty slowly turns into confidence and she stands taller.
Now gaining control, she decides to sit and wait. However, her eyes move about as new apprehensions enter. Then adjusting her dress, she recalls a pleasant moment. Tension returns as her hands intertwine and she notes the diamond wedding ring she still wears. Holding it closer, it brings back loving thoughts of a courtship long ago.
Then, suddenly, the doorbell rings. She gasps for air and remains in that middle ground between flight and fight. She overcomes the urge to run and slowly stands, taking a deep breath to restore her courage. She walks to the door as if being pushed. Once there, she hesitates touching the latch. Then forcing a smile, she opens the door.
Note how the above example uses a variety of movements as well as a range of intensities. This creates a more engaging character, one with depth.
With both movement and gestures, it’s best to do less and make those actions you use stand out and be clearly readable. In addition, they should be in line with the story and consistent with the character and his or her relationships. Remember that external physical actions express our inner experiences. It is our bodies, our movements and gestures, which best reveal to others our moods, desires, feelings, intentions, and ambitions. Movement should be such that even a deaf man could comprehend what’s happening.
People watching and studying award-winning performances are the best ways to assimilate the techniques outlined here. In your research, note the efficient use of movement and gestures, and how using only what complements the dialogue and the telling of the story results in believable performances. Duplicate your findings in short exercises so that they become an instinctive part of your repertoire.