Easy Choices to Flesh Out Physicality: Part 1

If you’ve ever gotten a note on physicality, you might know the existential frustration that accompanies such vague proclamations as “you look sort of tense” or, “Your general movement is a bit peculiar, did you know that?” And while most notes on physicality will hopefully be more helpful that these, the fact remains that different directors will have different vocabularies and preferences. Interpretation and communication are crucial, but wouldn’t it be nice not to get to that point? Making strong and specific physical choices from the beginning will help sell your character to your director, your audience, and yourself.


Let’s start with the basics. Acting can be very athletic, and there are things you can do before you ever touch a script that will help you prepare to make wonderful, interesting physical choices. Exercising and staying in shape are a great way to ensure you will be able to keep us with a physically demanding character without hurting yourself. And if this suggestion makes you want to flip your laptop over in disgust and rage, never fear! You don’t have to be David Beckham. (He’s still super fit, right? Am I getting old)? A little yoga or basic stretching will go a long way toward keeping your body loose and flexible. Eating right, and getting enough sleep and water will also work wonders. Remember your body is a tool for story telling as much as your voice and your imagination. Take care of it so it can take care of you!


If you’ve ever taken an introductory acting class, you’ve probably heard about body centers. Perhaps you’ve been acting professionally for a while, and maybe it’s been a hot minute since you’ve even thought about them. But to step up our physicality game we’re going to review the basics, and then get more specific. Your character’s “body center” is the point from which all of his or her movement tends to originate. (Check out some Michael Checkhov for more on these theories and techniques)! Think of it as a ball of energy that pulses at a certain point in your body. That ball of energy propels your movement. If it helps, experiment with the idea of a string being attached to that ball of energy, tugging you forward. Some instructors describe this as “leading” from your chosen body center. Below are some common choices for character body centers.

Head—Head centers are often chosen for characters who are intellectual, nerdy, perhaps out of touch with the rest of their body. Ravenclaw types, if you will. (If you won’t, GET OUT OF HERE. Comprehensive knowledge of my pop culture proclivities are a prerequisite. JK…Rowling! I am on fire. I’m done). However, leading from your head does not limit you to stereotypes of these choices. What happens to your evolving head centered character if you slow down the pace? Work in some brooding shoulders? Body centers are only one layer of the character casserole. Season in details to taste.

Chest—People who lead from their chest center can read as confident, powerful, even swaggering. But there are endless origins for a chest center. Again, it’s all in the details of your choices. For example, does your character lead from his chest because he is genuinely confident, or is it a studied trait designed to project an air of command (In which case, what is his “true” center? How can you embody that conflict)?

Pelvis—Pelvis-led people are Elvis. Elvis is the only choice. Hah hah. Haaaaaaaah. Seriously, though, think of it in terms of your pelvis being the center of your body (like if you folded yourself in half from head to feet). Therefore this choice as a body center can be incredibly grounded and earthy. Leading from your pelvis can also project sloppiness, sexuality or rebelliousness.

Feet—This one throws people for a loop sometimes. How can one lead from one’s feet? Go back to the ball of energy, divide it, and let it pulse in your feet. Now kick back and let them carry you forward. Suddenly you can be laid back, lackadaisical, spontaneous! Again, figure out what characteristics define the action of leading from your feet, and carry on.

These are only some of the basic body centers actors can choose. What happens if you lead from your right shoulder? From the tip of your nose? What if, instead of pulling you along, your body center pushes you from behind? The more specific you are about your physical choices, the more fully your character is formed. Humans are designed to read incredibly subtle cues of body language. Even if your audience can’t articulate the experience, they will instinctively respond to your commitment to physical detail. So whether you’re just starting out or revisiting concepts long since ignored, start playing around with fresh physical choices. At the very least it will get you out of your head and back in your character’s skin, where you belong.

Tune in next time to dig deeper into the mysterious world of physicality!

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com