Easy Choices to Flesh Out Physicality: Part 2

Last time we started breaking down the basics of physicality. Today we persevere in that quest.

The mission: specific, fully realized character development.

The strategy: isolating possible choices.

The motive: ART! Glorious ART! Also hopefully a paycheck. And yet another opportunity to say, “Yes, Aunt Myrtle, I do have a real job.”

So. Now that we’ve started thinking about prep work and body centers, it’s time to start layering in other choices that will help define our characters. When I teach the following in workshops, I use the exercise as it was taught to me: “milling and seething.” It is a group exercise that begins with everyone walking around the space as themselves, and slowly layering in more physical choices as they go along. Guess what? You can totally do it on your own! Obviously the more physical you can get, the better, so try to put this exercise on its feet if you can. As you experiment with movement, here are some choices to think about:

  1. Quick vs. Slow? Is your character quick or slow? Think about all the different ways you can express these choices with your body. What does “quick” mean for your character? Is she literally quick in her stride? Quick of mind, quick of judgment? How do the latter two affect you physically? Play with all the many ways a person can be quick or slow before you settle on the right one.
  2. Heavy or Light? Again, these words can connote a world of meaning. A physically bulky character can be light of heart, light of humor, light of foot. Think about the uncommon choice—if you are a burly, burly mountain of a man, what story does it tell to contrast with airy movements? The result could be comedic, sinister, endearing. On the other hand, how does it feel to lean into your physical type and embrace the whole package? The million tiny choices you make within this one choice bring your audience ever closer to the heart of your character.
  3. Bound or Free? Oh, figurative speech. How we all love you. This is where the subtleties really start to creep in. How do you embody a character who is bound in thought (perhaps very closed-minded), yet easy breezy in her movements? Find out how that inner contrast manifests. Is it a struggle? Does it simplify or complicate your character? Start playing with the literal extreme—try walking as though you are actually bound with rope from head to toe. Allow yourself leeway in increments until you find a physical expression that retains the essence of your choice while expressing natural human movement. It might help you jump into that physicality more quickly next time.
  4. Direct or Indirect? These seem forthright, but what lies behind each choice? Why is your character direct in movement? Is it natural confidence? Is it to compensate for a lack of control? The reason you choose each characteristic is just as important as the choice itself.

Once you have experimented with all of your individual choices, go back and layer them. So eventually you have a character that is quick or slow, and heavy or light, and bound or free, and direct or indirect. Congratulations! Your physical character now has a body center, and four very distinct characteristics of movement! Of course these are only building blocks. As you delve deeper into your character’s psyche, you will uncover more opportunity for physical choices.

Keep experimenting. In the court of artistic choices, specificity is king. May you reign supreme.

(But not in a dictatorial way. Unless that’s your character.)

You know what? You get it. Go craft beautiful physical characters.

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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