Have you ever seen a cat knead? If you have, imagine an actor doing the same thing with his feet.
Kneading doesn’t require that you leave the telephone booth. Because actual movement is involved, actors think they are doing what the director asked. They honestly don’t realize that they haven’t really relocated their body but instead are wearing a hole in the carpet.
They may be rotating left to right, and both feet may be moving, but they haven’t actually taken a full step in any direction. It’s more like a quarter step. Keep encouraging them to move, and you might get them to use 6 square feet of space (3 feet wide, 2 feet deep). But that’s about it.
It’s as if there is a leash that keeps pulling them back to their original position every time they stray too far from “home base”.
Eventually, they realize that physical movement means horizontal, not vertical, movement. They may even come to understand that the stage is their oyster, and they are welcome – no, encouraged – to use every bit of it.
This is when they become Wanderers.
Wanderers move, alright. They may cover the entire stage (although typically, they wear a path in the carpet from point A to point B.) But usually, they move slowly in one direction and then reverse when they reach the “end point”.
The important thing to understand about Wanderers is that there is no connection between their emotional life and their movement. They are walking because the director told them, “this is your scene, use the whole stage.”
Name one person you know who wanders aimlessly while they are talking and who doesn’t have a distinct psychiatric disorder. I doubt that you can.
There is ALWAYS a purpose to our movement which results in a distinct start, movement with purpose, and a distinct end. Wanderers tend to blur these divisions. They stay in motion for the sake of staying in motion, not because they have any practical or emotion need to be in motion.
Let’s say that I’m playing a scene where my character is very angry at someone and has a lengthy speech where I rail at my scene partner. “Work the room,” says my director. “Use the whole stage.” Given these instructions, I’ve seen actors slowly and deliberately, often without relating back to their scene partner in any meaningful way, traverse the set in a way that is counter to the deep emotions they are feeling. Sometimes they are in constant motion, but any stops along the way rarely have any connection to what is going on in the text.
To the audience, they look like they’re wandering. Because, in fact, they are.
Stage movement is essentially punctuation to the script. It needs to buttress the emotional arc of the characters. It therefore needs some intentionality and to be chosen carefully.
More on this in a future post . . .