Advanced Performance Techniques

What happens next? Remember that as you tell your story, you are re-living it, so your character doesn’t know what is going to happen next.  If you’re a spy in enemy territory, practice acting stealthy and observant as you talk about moving through the forest, and then practice acting suddenly shocked and terrified when you’re confronted by a Nazi.  Even though you as the writer know what is coming next, you as the character sneaking through the forest does NOT know what’s coming next, so you can really show us a big change in emotions in that moment.

Create a 3D world with your expressions and movements: Imagine you were a child entering your grandmother’s house for the first time.  If you want the audience to believe it is a mansion, you might mention her “big house” or you might not even mention the size.  Either way, take a pause and use your facial expression and body to express the size by having wide eyes, perhaps slightly open your mouth in wonder, turn your head to slowly look around at the gigantic room, perhaps even lean back a bit to look upwards and take it all in.  Even without any words, your audience will know from your expressions that grandma’s house is quite grand.  You can even use expressions and body language to show that you are thinking!  For example, a character excited to hear about a gold discovery could pace the floor trying to calculate how much money it will take her to start an expedition to the new strike area.  Or, a performer considering a job offer could pause, look her “boss” up and down once, put her hand to her chin in a “hmmm” posture for a few seconds and THEN grin and say, “I’ll take it!”

Feel the weight of an object: When you’re pretending to lift something heavy (a bucket of water or a baby), your body language must express the weight of that object even though it is not physically present.  Think about if there’s a handle and where it’s located, or whether you’ll pick up the object from the bottom.  Generally, when you lift something heavy, you’ll hold it very close to your body as you move it.  Try practicing with the real thing to get a feel for the shape and weight in real life!  Similarly, when you’re describing what you see, instead of seeing lots of something (such as “lots of octopi”) it can sometimes be more powerful to see just ONE – and then watch it go by -your audience will also feel like they’re watching it float past, which can be stronger than seeing lots of them.

Big gestures:  Sometimes when you have a big gesture, it’s hard to add the gesture to the words.  Try practicing without the words first, then add the words back in once you have the gesture worked out.  Only move around the room when you actually have a reason to move, but when you have a reason to move, go for it and really use your space.

Seek opportunities for important gestures:  Look for a way to add a meaningful gesture at pivotal points in your character’s life.  For example, when Lewis Carroll meets the young Alice (on whom he based his future book), he can add a significant gesture such as bending over, removing his hat, smiling and gently shaking the little girl’s hand.  Or when the photographer leaves an interview with Ghandi only days before he is assassinated, she can pause, turn back and really gaze at the small powerful man.  When Jacques Cousteau first sees the giant cephalopod passing by the porthole of his submarine, he can slowly watch it move through his field of vision while describing what he sees to the audience.

Overlap your words and gestures:  Practice, practice, practice to get your words and gestures to overlap each other, rather than saying the words, then doing a gesture, then saying more words, then doing another gesture.  Your performance will look more fluid and natural if you do your gestures or movements as you say the verbs in your monologue, rather than tell the story first, then follow up with the movements. If you have complex movements, this can be a big challenge!  Try having a friend read your monologue aloud while you only act out the motions.  Once you’re comfortable with the motions, try adding the words to the motions.

Dialog between two people:  Think of “habits” that you can give each person in the dialog to help the audience “see” 2 separate people.  Perhaps your character uses her hands freely as she speaks, so make the other person in the dialog put his hands behind his back when he has something to say.   Also, when speaking as the first person in a dialog, look at an audience member on one side of the room, then when switching to the second person in your dialog, change your gaze to look at an audience member on the other side of the room.  Often, two people in a conversation will have VERY different voices; use your voice to show us who is the spy pretending to be an innocent student, and who is the gruff and scary soldier.

Pauses: Beyond clarity, it can be very powerful to have pauses in your monologue to give your words extra weight and importance – this is more than just slowing down.  For example, if you’re telling about an attack on a friend, you might say, “To think it might have been me!  Later that night we went…..”  Your story could become even more chilling, however,  if you speak more slowly and put long pauses into your performance as you look directly at someone in the audience:  “To  think……{pause}…….it might have been…..{pause, gulp}…. me!……. {long pause, deep breath}.”  Putting in a pause before and after an important phrase or word offers it up on a silver platter to your audience.  Use this whenever you are delivering important words; for example, pause and speak very slowly and clearly when telling the title of the book you wrote.

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    S. as Julius Caesar

    S. as Julius Caesar