Saturday, October 4, 2008

Theater Tools for Speakers (Part 2)

Stage movement should be planned.

In the theater, the process of planning your stage movement is called blocking. As a speaker you need this process as well. Many speakers just wing it. They move back and forth like wind-blown leaves, or stand rooted to one spot, they lean on the lectern, or pace like Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup. The speech suffers because these speakers gave little or no thought where they should move, or if they should move and why they should move, or not move, or fly about the room like a bird.

Your movement should have purpose.


Movement draws attention. If you draw attention away from your central purpose you weaken your speech. For example, many untrained speakers fidget. They move their hands or feet yet are unaware of their movement. Some speakers shift their weight from one foot to another, or pace back and forth, or even do a little box step. You can almost hear the music.

If you do fidget, fidget on purpose.

These kinesthetic (body movement) crutches are even more distracting than the verbal crutches such as ums and ahs we in Toastmasters try so hard to eliminate. Rehearsal, particularly video recorded rehearsal, can help make you aware of such potential problems.

Purposeful motion, like purposeful words, adds power to your presentation. Would you add unneeded words to your speech? A random phrase here and there?

Of course you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t get up before an audience and just wing it with your words, so don’t do it with movement either.

According to John Dolman, Jr. and Richard K. Knaub in The Art of Play Production, there at least twelve purposes for movement on stage. For example, you might move for emphasis. There is no need to list all the reasons here. What is important is that you know why you are moving.

Your movement in front of your audience, like your writing, should be planned with care and rehearsed thoroughly. At least one rehearsal should be devoted to planning your blocking (movement).

There is a method to describe your movement on stage.

The stage (and your speaking area) may be divided into sections. Upstage refers to the area furthest from your audience. Downstage then is the area closest to the audience. These terms came about because stages used to be tilted. Upstage really was UP stage.

Stage right is the area to the right of the ACTOR as he or she faces the audience. (So, for the AUDIENCE, it is the LEFT side of the stage.) Stage left then is the area to the left of the actor (or speaker) facing the audience.

Here is a diagram showing different areas of a stage.

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