Why you need to practice onstage physical movements. A lot.

Activities are typically more complicated than movement.  For instance, I can get comfortable with crossing the stage fairly easily.  But if once I get there, I need to pour myself a scotch and soda on the rocks and drink it – well, that’s considerably more complex.

Not only are there many more moving parts, so to speak, I actually have to pay some attention to the activity.  I have to make sure the ice gets into the glass, not on the floor.  I have to be careful that the soda in the Schweppes bottle doesn’t spray all over when I open it.  I need to be sure not to pour too much “scotch”, unless my character is intent on getting drunk, in which case I need to be sure I do pour too much.  And I need to not overfill the glass and make a mess of things.

If I have a limited number of lines in which to accomplish this, I’ve got quite a challenge in front of me.  In other words, I better practice this early and often.

scotchFirst I have to get comfortable with the action itself.  I’m not in my own home, so I have to get familiar with where things are.  If I’m using ice tongs, I’d better practice moving ice with them so that I can do it quickly and without mishap.  I don’t drink scotch and soda, so I have to learn what the right level for the scotch is in the glass I’ll be using.  I have to practice with both bottles, so I learn how quickly I can expect the liquid to pour.  Do I have to unscrew a top?  How long does that take, and should I have the top almost completely unscrewed as part of the pre-set?

In other words, I need to remove the mystery of the actions.  Even activities that I am ostensibly doing for the first time need to be thoroughly explored, so that I know how to imitate the first-time experience.

Once I’m comfortable with the action, I need to add the words to it.  This will throw all my well-practiced actions into chaos!  I won’t say the lines right, and I won’t do the activity properly.  I’ll be a mess, in other words.  But as I continue to practice, the two – words and action – will start to blend naturally.  I’ll come to understand how the rhythm of my lines fit with the rhythm of the action.  Where I can pause to give my full attention to the action, and when I can momentarily stop the action to make a dramatic point with the words.

But all this explains – I hope – why you need to start experimenting with anything physical, whether it be a change in location or a physical activity, as early in the rehearsal process as possible.


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