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Posts from the Physicality Category

“For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.” – Benjamin Franklin

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

Subway

Experts say anywhere from 60-90% of communication is non-verbal (facial expression, gestures, and posture). We take our cues from how people sit, stand or move. But the information doesn’t end there.

“Hairstyle is body language. Clothing is body language.” – Fred Herzog, Photographer

Look at the men in the photo.

The guy with the beard, Subaru shirt and camo pants is worlds apart from the dude with the checked shirt and forlorn expression. If I were to guess their first lines of dialogue, it’d probably be something like:

Guy #1: “I used to ride bikes in the military.”

Guy #2: “I wish Maanika would call me.”

In improv though, it’s rarely this obvious. We don’t have as many physical cues to get a read on someone’s character right away. So what can we do?

Mime An Accessory

In Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, TJ initiates an office worker who wears a beret. With one small gesture, adjusting the angle of the hat on his head, his character instantly becomes more interesting.

Maybe your character likes to stroke his beard, or play with her ponytail. I’ve seen Lisa Merchant mime goatees, while Ted Hallett twirls imaginary locks that would make Kim Kardashian jealous.

Maybe you’re wearing a scarf or a boa that keeps coming loose so you have to keep tossing it over your shoulder.

It doesn’t matter what it is; just reach out into space and find something, then use it to learn about your character.

Scene Paint Someone

If it’s three minutes in and we still know nothing about the people on stage, go in and scene paint something on them. Be specific. Is it a corduroy jacket, or a $6,000 Tom Ford suit? Reveal that they have a secret tattoo, describing what and where it is in detail. Endow someone with a toupée or glass eye.

Give them something to dimensionalise their character, and it will add dimension to the scene.

Study Body Language Like A Thief

There are so many tiny physical clues to how a person is feeling:

• Touching the back of the neck or head signifies doubt or uncertainty.

Improvisers who get in their head often do this unconsciously. If you see this happening to your scene partner, you can snap back them back into the moment by asking them if they need clarity.

• Putting both arms behind the head and leaning back in a chair is a show of status. (Watch for it at your next big meeting.)

• Touching or scratching the top of your hand or forearm signals stress. It’s especially common when people feel anxious or under attack.

Anna Gunn, who played Skyler in Breaking Bad, brushes her forearm ever so slightly when Skyler tells Walt she’s afraid of him.

Watch for these and other clues from your scene partners. You probably know friends or family members with unique quirks or tics; gestures that tell you they’re happy, anxious, sad, or about to explode. Try using some of them on stage, and see where they lead you.

 

“No scene is ever about the words being spoken.” – Del Close

 

“I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.” – Cary Grant

This TED Talk is empowering, not just for improvisers, but for every…uh…body.

You’ve probably noticed when you take on a physicality that’s different than your normal one, your character takes on a life of its own.

I’ve propped one leg on a chair, resting my elbow on my thigh, and suddenly become Dick Cheney, a pirate, or a motivational speaker. What’s more, my character’s words flowed effortlessly.

It turns out there’s a scientific link between physicality and personality, as Amy Cuddy explains. You can even use it to boost your confidence in as little as two minutes (good to know if you’re nervous before a performance).

Click below to watch this fascinating talk. Thanks to Mike Riverso for sharing.

“We think in shapes and pictures. The shape your character takes informs who that character is, and lets your fellow players recognize him/her/it when they see that shape again.” – Todd Stashwick

Photo © New York Musical Improv Festival

Physicality is a gift, not just to your scene partners, but to you as well. The second your foot hits the stage to enter a scene, notice what your body is doing.

Is it hunched over, taking small, shuffling steps? Or upright and striding confidently?

Are you snapping your fingers as you walk? Did you prop one leg on your knee as you sat down, or cross your legs demurely at the ankles?

All of these things tell our scene partner, the audience, and – if we’re paying attention – us, who this person is, before we open our mouth.

When we see a shape or image of any kind, our brain immediately goes to work, trying to find a “match” for that image. Todd Stashwick teaches an exercise that demonstrates this.

To begin, one person goes up and strikes a pose, any pose, and holds it.

The rest of the team then joins that person, one at a time.

For instance, let’s say the first person is standing with feet apart, hands on hips. The second person could go behind and stand with their hands encircling the first person’s waist. The third person could stand with one hand on the first person’s left shoulder. And so on.

If someone looks tired holding their pose, you can help by supporting them with the pose you take.

When everyone has joined in, the Coach/Director removes one person at a time, randomly. After each person is removed, pause to observe the new stage picture. It’s amazing how much it changes.

When only two or three people remain, see what the remaining pose suggests – what scene is revealed – then have those players perform it.

The last two people might look like a cop arresting a perpetrator. Or a woman proposing to her boyfriend. Or someone choking a co-worker. Or Kali, the goddess of death.

Even if there’s just one person on stage, their physicality can suggest things too. Stashwick teaches students to look at the negative space on stage, not just the positive.

But besides helping players recognize characters, shape can help your stage picture too.

Stage picture is something that’s often ignored in improv, especially after the opening (if there was one). We’re usually too busy talking to think about what the audience is seeing, and what they’re seeing is probably two people standing around yakking.

The next time you find yourself rooted to the floor, change your physicality and see how it changes the scene. Not only will you feel different, but it will immediately look different than 99% of improv scenes.

An easy way to create a great stage picture is through symmetry. Susan Messing teaches that doing stuff together makes it look important. If one person goes in as a guard, go in as a guard as well.

Observe what’s happening on stage, then mirror it. If your team is large, and more people mirror a move or a pose, it looks even more impressive. It’s the kind of thing that makes the audience think you rehearsed it.

Try it at your next rehearsal or show. Use physicality to shape your characters, build your environment, and support your team. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it works!

Photo © Adrianne Gagnon