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The Arts Unit @home Art Bites – Characterisation – 6 Leading body parts

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JANE SIMMONS: Hi, everyone. I'm Jane Simmons from The Arts Unit, the Drama Performance Officer for the Department of Education. This is episode 6 in our characterisation series. And, as we progress our way through characterisation, we started with stereotypes, and we've been adding complexity as we go.

Last lesson, we looked at some of the simple versions of Laban's movement analysis. How did you go with your practical activity at the end? I hope you had fun with it.

Today, we're going to look at movement as a stimulus for creating characters, and we're going to start with leading body parts. Remember, we talked about observation being an actor's best friend? Reading is fundamental.

Have you paid much attention to how people walk and what it says about them? I bet you have, even if you didn't consciously set out to do it. So, we're taking in images and making assumptions all the time.

The difference, when you're observing as an actor, is that you're doing it consciously. So, this means that you are deliberately analysing what you see, and reading it for dramatic meaning. Let's touch on dramatic meaning for a moment.

What does that mean? Well, dramatic meaning refers to the information we receive from what we see onstage, in that moment. So, it might be related to design, such as the set or the lights or the costumes, as well as aural information, like sound and music and dialogue. But, it can also be about the placement of items and the characters' movement, their expressions, and so many other things.

Think about when you enter the theatre, and before the performance even starts. You might look at the stage and start to write the narrative, or the mood, or the style, of the play in your head, without knowing anything about the play itself. In film, we might refer to that as the mise-en-scene, just everything inside the frame.

In theatre, the stage is our mise-en-scene, and we're interpreting images to create or enhance narrative and character assumptions. I bet you feel much smarter already, and we haven't even started our practical yet. I know I've mentioned it in previous units, but it's really important that we develop drama literacy, because words have power.

And, when we come to analyse and critically engage in the reflection in your log book, or in your journal, your essays or your discussions, using the right words allows you to express your meaning thoughtfully and accurately. So, really do your best to develop terminology for each of your subjects, to add to the body of knowledge that you have, and to communicate effectively your thoughts and ideas.

Right? Well, that was a very long preamble to today's practical, but very important. So, before we start, make sure you've got some room to move about, and remember, you can pause this video at any time and continue when you're ready.

When we observe people, you may have noticed that everybody walks a little differently. Have you ever seen those guys who walk along people on the street, and then mimic the way they walk? Often, we don't even know that we have a distinctive walk, or maybe a swagger if you're lucky. So, let's do an exercise called 'leading body parts', to see how using different parts of the body lead you around the space, and make you move differently, to create a variety of characters.

So, let's start with your feet. So, make sure that your feet enter the space first, in front of the rest of the body. Just walk, using your feet as a leading body part. Think of a horse, and how it's their feet that kind of enter the space first, and how that affects the rest of their body and how they move.

So, let your feet lead you around. And, how does your body respond to that? Exaggerate your walk. Have fun with it. What sort of character does this feel like? If they were whistling or singing a tune, what might it be?

How might they greet other people? With a wave? A nod? Do they feel like a happy character? Give them a voice. What do they sound like? How do they speak? Do they use the higher or lower register of their voice?

OK? Stop, and relax. Shake it off. So, let's move on to our next leading body part, the knees. So, lead with your knees. Start slow and exaggerated, and then move around the space with a little more pace. Does this character feel a little more comic or serious? Old, young? Smart or a bit bumbling?

Once again, give them some emotional sounds and dialogue. What might their laugh sound like? How do they greet people? Do they look around a lot? What's their vocal register?

Think of yourself riding a bike, except you're actually walking. All right? Relax. Now, let's try the same thing, but with the hips. Thrust those hips into the space first, and see how it affects everything else.

Can you feel some swagger creeping into your walk? Really exaggerate it at first, and then make it more natural as you find the rhythm of it. Now, how do they greet people on the street? Get them to say something. How do they talk? What sounds do they make as they move? How old does this character feel? Are they confident?

Next up is the tummy. Ooh, extend out your stomach and start moving. Maybe you've just had a huge meal or maybe you're really pregnant. Well, how does that affect your pace and the rest of your movement?

Do you feel more of a strain in your body? Say hello to someone. How does this affect voice? What sounds do you make? Are you puffing more than usual? You're doing really well.

OK? Relax. Time to puff out the chest. So, I know as soon as I do that my face starts pouting and my arms lift higher than usual. What's your face and body doing right now?

So, greet someone. How does it affect your confidence? What sounds are you making as this character? Is their voice slow or fast? Do you see them as young or old? Do you feel like people are looking at you with envy? I bet they are.

Shake it off. Let's go with shoulders. Now, remember to keep your head up, otherwise you're leading with this instead. I bet you feel older already just doing this. And, you can feel a slight strain in the neck and upper back and that affects voice and sounds as well.

Give it a go. Try to speak or say hello and see how it feels. It's like the body is contracting or shrinking. And, what mood do you think they'd be in? Where have you placed your hands?

What pace are you walking? Do you think this character likes other people, or they would be like a cranky old neighbour? Relax. Let's go to the chin.

Now, let the chin and the nose lead you. Oh, look at you. Do you feel like a snob? Would you even bother saying hello? Maybe just make a sound of acknowledgment. You're probably too important to talk to anyone.

How has your pace changed? How does it affect the rest of your movement? Are you young or old? Smart, or a bit slow? Where are you off to? The library or a TED Talk where you're the guest speaker? Well, la, de da.

All right? So, we've explored a few body parts today, and you can try some others too. The top of your forehead, your arms or you could take it to extremes with your elbows or your ear, maybe your lips? Do you have a favourite?

Well, your job now is to create a world for one of these characters. You could start with them waking up. Do they do military-style exercises upon waking, or does the alarm have to go off 7 times before they get out of bed?

How might they have breakfast? Perhaps you can put them on public transport. How might they respond to a crowded bus or train? What would they be like in an office location, or a restaurant?

So, create a 2-minute scene that allows us to read dramatic meaning, or interpret the sort of character that they are. And, think about your devised situation and how you can show that. You can use dialogue, but don't rely on it to communicate information. Use your movement to do that, and only use dialogue to enhance it. And have fun.

You might want to draw a picture of your character and what you think they look like, or get images from the internet or magazines and think what images represent the sort of person you're playing. And, if you've got a partner to work with, you might want to create a scene where your 2 characters meet. So, off you go and play with your ideas and leading body parts.

Oh, one other thing. If you want to try it, you might ask a friend or a family member to watch you walking some time and then get them to mimic you. Or, get them to film you and watch it back. Try not to be self-conscious about it. Nobody else has to see it but you. But you might find it interesting to analyse how you walk, and what impression you think that has on others. Thanks for watching everyone and I'll see you in the next episode.

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