Stage Movement & Blocking Basics for the Beginner

Oftentimes, many beginner actors push blocking onto the director’s already large plate of responsibilities. This is a mistake, however, as the actor is the one who knows their character best. In order to have some kind of effective communication between actor and director, a common understanding of blocking terminology and its principles are necessary.

Blocking

Blocking is the way a character moves and where they stand on the stage. Through blocking, the attitudes of the characters toward one another or toward the situation are conveyed to the audience, with or without dialogue. It reveals the deeper meaning within characters.

When using blocking, the underlining drama or comedy of a scene should be very apparent to the audience. It is the moment to moment movements and positions of a character, injecting meaning into the scene and story narrative.

Movement and Physical Behavior

Behaviors are strong if they are indicative of a winning attitude. Winning attitudes include: confident, assertive, sincere and emotional vulnerability.

Behaviors are weak if they are show a struggling attitude. Examples of struggling attitudes are: reliant, fragile and masking emotions.

Body Positions

The five basic body positions are used relative to facing the audience or camera.

  • Full Front: Strongest of the body positions, in this stance the actor faces the audience. This is considered an open position.
  • Full Back: Typically only done for dramatic effect, this position has the actor standing with his back to the camera or audience, usually for a brief period.
  • One-Quarter Front: Facing slightly left or right, this is also an open position.
  • Profile: This occurs when two actors face one another in profile, they are said to be ‘sharing’ the scene.
  • Three-Quarter Back: the actor’s fullback is to the camera, so that the head and shoulder of only one side is visible to the audience. It is the weakest of the five positions.

 

Blocking Positions

Blocking positions are the positions of the characters relative to one another and to the audience. Each position is assigned a strong or weak value, permitting the chance to dramatize certain elements of the story, characters and their relationships.

Acknowledgement and Support

After characters and their relationships with one another have been defined for the audience, the actors must acknowledge and support these choices so the purpose of the scene is best displayed.

For example, let’s say a very strong person enters the scene and you shake his hand to introduce yourself. Without support, it appears to the audience as an ordinary handshake. To support him, you must feel the discomfort of his firm grasp. Now he is understood by the audience as being very strong.

Creating Emphasis with Blocking

When the stage becomes filled with multiple people vying for the audience’s attention, sight lines and intense emotion created by the actors can direct the audience’s eyes toward the appropriate character.

This intense emotion also has the potential to create excitement; this can sometimes have the effect of creating tension. Tension is at its peak when the power behind an impending action can be sensed by the audience. Creating tension can be done by finding the instances of intense power within the scene and restricting them. Maintaining the tension is all about gracefully suspending the action.

Executing Choices

In order to be believable, the character must appear to be blocking and moving on his own. This is why it makes more sense for an actor to figure out his own movements as he knows his motivations and goals. This rationale is especially helpful for beginner actors to understand their movements as impulse instead of arbitrary stage direction. Often, a character’s blocking will develop and advance during rehearsals as he or she comes to life.

For many actors it is difficult to hit stage marks at first. This is normal. As your body practices the movements, it will begin to remember them. This should be a skill that is worked on often and in a variety of ways. Practice different positions, dialogue or behaviors while trying to hit your mark on a particular movement.

Blocking naturally evolves from a character and their feelings, desires and challenges. Used for emphasis when isolated from other dramatic elements, it loses its impact when overdone. The character must live the story for blocking to be effective.

To play a character truthfully and add honesty to the context of scene, you must give consideration to your opposing goals, emotions and the other essentials of drama. If you can accomplish this, the scene will have purpose, pattern and shape. Most importantly, the audience will receive a scene’s intended effect. And that is your job.

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