The Transformation Checklist

  • 9 Questions [previous post: Notes from my year at Conti]
  • 50 Questions [see below]
  • 9 steps [see below]
  • How do they physically differ to you? i.e. age, illness, calloused hands, sore back from a certain activity etc..
  • Draw a cartoon of clear lines
  • Where is their centre? What colour is it? What texture? ( could the final influence voice – see below )
  • What elements do they share an affinity with? Where may they shift? Are they a combination? i.e. softening spaghetti, bubbling creek, kettle, freezing icing. What is their fire? Where do they hold it? where does it spill out?
  • How would Laban categorise them? How might it change situationally?
  • How would Yat Malgrem categorise them? Whats their stress?
  • What animal do they share an affinity with? [explore physically to extremes]
  • Take their body for a walk, how do people react to you? Is this how they would react to the character? How does it make you feel to inhabit this body in real life?
  • How does their voice differ to yours? In age, accent, period ect.
  • What is the texture or smell of the voice? [from on floor, outside to in, to physicalized half creature, add voiced sounds, add words, finally situation]
  • What state of tension do they live in mainly? When and why might this change? Might the body be a mixture? i.e. rigor mortis in the neck but California in the hips?

 

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Also see: (an acculation of many things mentioned above)

THE BODY BUILDER

STAGE 1: RESEARCH

Below is a series of initial ‘research’ questions to help you gather as much information as possible in order to consider your character’s body in detail and inform your creative choices in how your character might move. Some questions will be more relevant than others, depending on the play, or the style of the production, and you will probably be able to think of other helpful factors which haven’t been considered here.

1. In what ways is the world of the play close to / far removed from your own period / country / culture? And how would you describe these differences/similarities in physical terms?

2. How does the playwright describe your character in physical / visual terms? Do the other characters in the play make any reference to your character in terms of his / her physicality or appearance?

3. How old is your character? If your character is younger or older than you, how much of a difference in physicality is needed, and how would you describe those differences?

4. What does your character wear? In what ways do imagine the clothes to affect the movement?
EXAMPLE:
• Jogging bottoms, t-shirt, trainers = loose, comfortable, informal, casual.
• Corset, long skirt = covered up and held in – restricted, formal.
• Shirt and tie = formal, professional, but the suit is old, shirt not ironed and tie loose.

5. What is your character’s status in the context of each scene?
EXAMPLE: Dominant head of the family when at home, low ranking and subservient at work etc.

6. What does your character do for a living? And to what extent is your character’s occupation sedentary or physically active?
Manual Labour (e.g. Miner, farmer, can involve physical exertion: lifting heavy things, getting dirty/sweaty, physically exhausted…can affect the character’s posture, stature, indicate level of strength).

Trained/Skilled (e.g. typist, carpenter, waiter, involves specific learned/trained skills).

Creative – (painter, writer, poet…can involve a rejection of formality…physical freedom)

Intellectual – (politician, businessman, lawyer…can involve formality, the character might carry a sense of their own importance, positon, power)

Military – trained, machine, disciplined, formal.

7. What is your character’s class/education? How might this be visible in the character’s body and movements? To what level does your character engage with etiquette / formality / manners and how?
EXAMPLE: Self made millionaire from a working class background, has status and money, but doesn’t care about manners…eats with his mouth open, slouches when he sits and farts in public even though he is wearing a £3000 suit.

8. What is your character’s physical state of health? If your character is fit, what do they do to exercise? If your character has a physical ailment, condition or disease, what can you find out about how it would affect your character’s body / movement in real terms?
EXAMPLE:
• The character has gout in his right leg: Gout is a type of arthritis where swelling and severe pain develops in joints, especially at the base of the big toe. Walking is very painful.

9. On a scale of 1 to 10, what energy level does your character live in habitually? Does this change throughout the play?
1 = BED BOUND/ FRAIL 10 = HYPERACTIVE

10. Physical coordination: To what extent does your character move with precision, poise and sophistication or clumsy, awkwardness.

11. How much space does your character take up?

12. To what extent is your character an extrovert or an introvert? How does this manifest in the character’s physicality?
EXAMPLE:
• She has a powerful presence and dominates the room when she walks into it.
• People barely notice that he is there.

13. To what level is your character confident or self-conscious and how?
EXAMPLE:
• My character is very confident in her sexuality, her body and her appearance, but becomes self-conscious when with her critical overbearing mother.
• My character has confidence as a professional and a boss, but becomes nervous and clumsy when out on a date.

14. Which parts of his or her body does your character like most and like least?
15. How masculine or feminine is your character?
16. Any additional useful information, considerations or discoveries relevant to the physical life of your character.

17. At the end of this initial gathering of information, how close or far do you feel the character is to you in physical terms? What do you see as being the main challenges in embodying these ideas?

STAGE 2: EXPLORE

Below is a series of practical exercises and approaches to developing the physical life of your character, building on your research and drawing from your work throughout your first year of training. This exploratory work should take place independently, outside of your rehearsal. You may explore these ideas alone, or collaborate with fellow cast members. Some approaches may be more appropriate or beneficial than others, depending on the demands of the character, and it may not be necessary to use all of them. You are reminded that you are encouraged in your training to build your work on creative choices, and to develop an understanding of process. In other words, to have a clear idea of how you arrived at your choices and to be able to articulate clearly what you did practically to embody them.

1.PORTRAIT

Find an image, photograph, painting of what you imagine your character to look like when you read the play. Why and how does this image represent the character for you?

Paste images below. This may include costume design.

Exercise:

A. Recreate the portrait exactly with your body, and in as much accurate detail as you can.

B. Begin to explore how that ‘statue’ you have created might truthfully come to life and begin to move. What would its tempo be? What kind of gestures or shapes do you imagine him/her to make? Allow yourself to grow ‘organically’ and instinctively into the space.
2. LEVELS OF TENSION

0. CATATONIC Can’t Move – No tension in the body
1. EXHAUSTED Depleted; running on empty; everything spent
2. CASUAL ‘Californian’; relaxed; a day off; no worries
3. NEUTRAL Economic; efficient; functional
4. ALERT Something is in the room; curious
5. SUSPENCE It may be a bomb in the room; wary; aggressive
6. PASSIONATE There is definitely a bomb in the room; emotions released
7. ABSTRACT The bomb is about to go off; tragic, full tension
8. PETRIFIED Cant’ Move – Full tension in the body

Exercise:

A. Make a chart for each scene your character appears in, marking where in the text the tension changes from one level to another. This change should be affected by the other characters in the scene.

Example:
She enters the room at level 2
She sees her husband kissing someone else which turns her to level 6 He slaps her and she falls on the floor to level 0.
She stands up and walks to the table at level 3. She picks up a knife and stabs him in the head at level 6 She walks out of the room at level 1.

B. Find the physical shape of the scene without speaking any text and practice embodying the changes and moving from one to the other to learn the shape. Keep repeating. For the exercise, don’t worry about being ‘realistic’ in the size of your movements and allow yourself to play boldly. This aims to develop a physical understanding of the scene, and to help you embody it instinctively – you are not choreographing how you will actually physically move in the scene!

C. Decide what your character’s habitual level of tension is, and understand how to embody that idea through tempo, posture, mannerism etc. through physical exploration.

3. ANIMAL STUDY
Which animal would you choose to reflect your character and why? How does this choice relate to your ‘research’?
Exercise:

A. Study the animal you have chosen by observing it live or by closely watching whatever footage you can find of the animal in its natural habitat.

Key things to focus on in your study:
• Weight
• Rhythm
• Inner motor
• Mask
• Mannerisms, characteristics and habits.

B. Work towards finding a truthful physical study of the animal
(100% Animal). This is purely physical work, not an intellectual idea.

C. Begin then to ‘stand the animal up’ by reinterpreting the physical vocabulary of the animal into human activity:

Example:
Study how the animal lays down and stands up and translate this into sitting down in a chair and standing up. How would it pick up an object etc.?

D. Pick out specific physical actions, activities, entrances and exits of the character and explore how you can interpret the animal’s physical vocabulary into specific, choreographed phrases of movement. Use the study to define characteristics, mannerisms, gestures, poses and shapes

4.ELEMENTS

 

EARTH       Low centre

Resistance

Weight

Momentum (moves the space)

End

Direct

 

+ AIR = Sandstorm

 

+ FIRE = Molten Lava

 

+ WATER = Sludge

AIR High Centre

No Resistance

No Weight

No End

Flow (The space moves it)

Direct

 

+ WATER = Bubbles

 

+ FIRE = Blow Torch

 

+ EARTH = Hot Mud Spring

WATER Off centre

Buoyant Weight

Undulation (The space moves it)

No End

Indirect

 

+ FIRE = Boiling Water

 

+ AIR = Spray. Mist

 

+ EARTH = Ice

FIRE Expanded centre

No resistance

No weight

Indirect (chaotic)

It moves the space

No End

 

+ EARTH = Glass

 

+ WATER & AIR = Steam

 

EARTH + AIR = Explosive Geezer

 

  1. Decide which element or mixture of elements best suits your character and why. How does this element differ from your own habitual quality of movement?
  2. Explore the element (or mixture of elements) in its pure form (100% element)
  3. Essentialise the qualities of movement and where you hold your centre and interpret gradually into the character’s behaviour.
  4. Put the character specifically onto the set and explore how these ideas can be interpreted into the space in relation to specific props, furniture and activities in the play. Example: She floats into the room

Sits in a chair, with her centre high, with no end and no weight.

She lifts a pen as if it floats.

She writes rapidly with the quality of fire.  

  1. What is your character’s internal element?
  2. What material best describes your character?

(e.g. porcelain, steel, feather, paper…)

5. ACTION STUDY

  1. What is the physical action/activity of the scene? What are the characters doing? Which space is the scene, or scenes set in? And why is the character there?

Example: The scene is set in a gents’ toilets in an office building. Your character came to do a pee before going to a meeting and bumps into a colleague…they have a conversation.What is the precise, specific physical activity of the scene?

Example: During the conversation the character pees in a urinal, zips up his trousers, washes his hands walks to the dryer and dries his hands, combs his hair in the mirror, neatens his tie and leaves.

Practice the activity of the body in the space without playing the context of the scene or the text. How would your body really move when doing that activity in that space?

6. SPACE

Which relationship with the space make the most sense of your character?

I PUSH The body pushes through or against the space
I PULL The body pulls the space along
I AM PUSHED The body moves forward because it is pushed into the space
I AM PULLED The body is drawn into the space

 

Exercise:

Explore these spatial relationships. Move with an expanded centre, placing yourself boldly at the centre of the space occupying as much of the space with your physical presences as possible and begin to reduce it as you move, until you begin to make sense of how much space (bubble) your character takes / owns.

  1. What is your character’s relationship to the place where the scene is set?
  • Does your character own the room the action takes place in?
  • How familiar is your character to the room or space?
  • How much time would your character normally spend in this room?
  • Is your character a visitor to this space/ room?
  • Does your character feel at home/welcome in the space?
  • Is your character anxious to leave the space?
  • Is the space outdoors or indoors?
  • What is the temperature/ climate?

7. REHEARSAL CLOTHES

Find the correct shoes! Your footwear should be the most appropriate to the character in the context of each scene. Wear them throughout rehearsals. Leather soled formal shoes make you walk in a different way to trainers, trainers make you hold yourself differently from bare foot, heels are embodied entirely differently from flat court shoes, or flip-flops etc.

Corsets, long skirts, suits, ties need to be inhabited and embodied and inform the movement of your character, rather than be something that you add at the end. Rehearsing in jogging bottoms and trainers for a scene which is set in a business meeting makes no sense of the rehearsal at all in physical terms. Wearing a skirt determines how you move, how you sit down etc. which is entirely different to the way you move in jeans, for example (and vice versa). Try always to rehearse in something close to the costume you will wear in the scene, and work from the beginning with the idea of TRANSFORMATION. Let the clothes inform your movement.

If you want your character to be more grounded and to find more weight, and you have a habit of shuffling your feet, try using ankle weights (or tying tights stuffed with rice around your ankles!). Similarly, if you tend to flap your arms around and you would like to be more economic and centred, tie them to your wrists. If your shoulders tend to slump forwards and you would like to stand taller in your spine, use a long scarf or a bit of material to hold your shoulders back while you rehearse.

8. SELF STUDY

If your character is very close to you in age and culture etc., your work will not be so focused on physical transformation, but instead your focus becomes more about how you engage your own body simply in the space and work to take away your own ‘habits’ which can get in the way of the character and prevent you from being truthful and ‘in your body’.

Typical acting ‘out of body’ habits:

  • Shuffling feet
  • Pacing around the space without intension, direction or function.
  • Taking a step forward every time you begin a sentence.
  • Taking a step back every time you show a response.
  • Pointing to yourself or beating your chest whenever you say “me” or “I”,
  • Leaning forward or pushing the head forward.
  • Moving the head with every sentence or word to emphasise text.
  • Going on tip toe.
  • Repeatedly raising the arms then letting them fall limp to make a slapping sound against your sides.

 Exercise:

A good way to study your own movement and to see and understand how your body moves in the space is to watch it.

FILM A REHEARSAL of a scene and watch it without sound. Scrutinise what you do physically and make notes on what you would like to change.

STAGE 3: ACT

These exercises encourage your physical work, and draw directly from your training. They should be explored during and outside of rehearsals to help you make decisions and discoveries in order to find full physical embodiment of your character based on detail and thorough investigation. Some will work for you more effectively than others…and that is fine.

Take risks, be bold and allow yourself to be playful.

REMEMBER, when you are acting in a scene, you SHOULD NOT be

thinking consciously about any of this work or of technique…you should just simply allow yourself to be in the moment and find the truth.

Let your body learn it, then trust it to remember.

Remember the analogy of learning to drive: You learn technique first, then practice and eventually your learnt skill becomes instinct: and you can’t remember the drive home.

Your training is a time to be a technician so that you have foundations to base your work on. But don’t be a technician when acting. Just be.

None of this work is a gospel, or a rule book, or an instruction manual. It is a tool kit to help you create

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