Bringing Christmas Characters to Life (part 1 of 3)
…without Saying a Word
As a storyteller and reenactor, I learned early on that how we move and control the space around us can make a huge difference in how people perceive our performance.
The following are some highlights from my recent class on Movement and Physicality for Christmas Characters.
Evaluate Your Space
- Look at the space you are going to be performing in. How are you going to be moving around in it? Are there tables or chairs that might snag a super-coat or dress? Glasses that could be knocked over? Will crowds impede your progress? Is that door you need to go through unlocked and won’t trigger an alarm?
- Lighting. If all the world is a stage, you want better lighting. You need two sets of eyes to evaluate how the lighting will affect your presentation.
- Sound/Technology. Every space has dead zones and hot spots. Factors like cord length, mic range, and speaker position have to be taken into account.
- Distractions. You need to avoid distracting backgrounds. If they have you in front of a door opening and closing all the time, or people can walk up behind you, time to try to find a better performing center.
- Traffic Patterns. Watch for distracting traffic such as waiters, audience access, or people moving in front of you during your performance. Likewise, you don’t want to distract from other people’s performances.
- Surprises. Every gig has surprises. A wall could move, a band start up, or Elsa walks in. Once you know your space, you have a chance to plan accordingly. Then you can use your performer bag of tricks to recapture your audience.
- Advocate for your Audience. If you see someone struggling to get in or you see empty seats, take a moment and ask for help. Look for helpers. When you show the audience you care, it will pay back big time.
- Audibility. Make certain that the folks in the back can hear you. Before the show, ask a friend to hold up a hand to ear if they can’t hear you. At the beginning of the show, have them give you a thumbs up when things are good.
As a Christmas performer, there is a good chance you will end up on stage at some point. It might be a traditional theater stage or a simple riser. But the truth is that wherever you perform will become a stage—on a sidewalk, outdoors, or any home visit. It’s up to you as a performer to try to coordinate things to your audience’s best advantage. We want to do that without stepping on any toes, literally and figuratively.
For any performance, emphasize the following.
- Strong entrances
- Good connection with the audience
- Strong, compact performance
- Possibly a supporting role (where you lend focus to others)
- Great exit
Whether the stage or performance area is created by the performer (such as for street performers) or a traditional stage, the following terminology from theatre can be helpful.
- Front of the stage is Down
- Back of the stage is Up
- The performer is looking at the audience
- The performer’s right is Stage Right
- The performer’s left is Stage Left
Movements to Center Down Stage are the strongest. As you move away from center (to left or right) or you move away from the front (to the center and back) your movement loses strength. Understanding the psychology of the space can make your performances stronger.
Exchanging Focus between Roles
The main characters typically hold the strongest positions. In this case, let’s assume it’s Santa and Mrs. Claus. Other performers may have temporary focus, but then it returns to the main characters. Santa and Mrs. Claus can create dynamic positions, trading strength with one another and other characters. There are several ways to ensure that the strength of each character is supported and reinforced.
- “If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.” Learn how to cheat your face towards your audience and how to avoid blocking other performers.
- Eyes are always drawn to new behaviors. Once a behavior becomes redundant (like stacking boxes), your audience forgets them. Pauses are your friends.
- The bigger the audience, the harder it will be for them to see nuanced facial expressions or small gestures. Learn how to dial up your actions in a bigger space.
- The bigger the venue, the more definitive your movements need to be. Rapid and fast movements might not have good visibility.
- When dealing with a parade or a really large space, make certain you have negative space in your body profile. Roll the wrist when you wave, and use an anticipatory body pull.
- Dynamic actions do not have to be the biggest actions. Waving arms can be weaker when compared to pulling a wand in a menacing way, for instance. Tight and dynamic actions or actions with tension command attention.
- In a solo, primary position, move back enough that you don’t have to turn your head too much to catch the left and right side of the audience. Avoid performing whiplash.
- If your audience is lower than you but close, try to avoid scenarios where they are looking up your nose. Adjust your body angle and the angle of your face.
- When moving on stage, be definitive (especially at Mr. and Mrs. C.). Turn your head first then torso. Always return to center, if at all possible.
- When you stand, avoid presenting a flat body angle. Instead turn your torso slightly, while your face remains forward, adding subtle energy to your profile.
- When entering and exiting, do it with purpose. Come in and own the stage. If the role requires it, engage your audience. When leaving, if they applaud, give them some time then acknowledge their applause. Then clear the stage completely.
A Stage is what you make it. Your ideal performance makes your audience comfortable, they can see and hear you clearly, and you can establish a relationship with them. You can position yourself for best advantage. You might shift to a corner rather than being next to a hallway. You might stand up a few stairs rather than get lost in a ground-level crowd.
- Your performance will be experienced by multiple people at different distances. Always go big enough so that the furthest person can read something.
- Always ask who you are truly performing for. While it may be easier to focus on children, understand you are performing for everyone in your audience.
- As we interact directly with an audience, we are like storytellers. Storytellers need to be able to see the faces of the audience and make eye contact. This “completes the circuit” and allows the performer to interact at a meta-language level.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3!
Upcoming Events and Info about Christmas Performer Workshops!
August 2017 Workshop in Stillwater, MN – Christmas Performer Workshops is being hosted by North Star Santa’s August 26 and August 27, 2017 at the beautiful Lowell Inn, in Stillwater Minnesota. Contact Debra Ann Grabelcik of North Star Santas if you are interested.
Christmas Performer Workshops (Santa True) will be at the NORPAC SANTAS 8th Annual Northwest Santa Workshop at Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound WA over November 3-4, 2017 (located at Great Wolf Lodge Grand Mound, 20500 Old Hwy 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531, USA).
In 2018, don’t be surprised if you see CPW teaching classes and workshops at the FORBS Reunion and at ISC Denver.
If your organization is ready to take it to the next level, give Christmas Performer Workshops a shout. We have limited availability in 2018 and slots for 5-6 Workshop Weekends. Want to have some fun and educational training that will have your group thinking about innovating? Contact us today!
On Behalf of CPW, True, Cat, and our friends, thank you very much.
It is our belief that the future of our Art as Christmas Performers depends on investing in ourselves and in each other as Performers and Entertainers. Putting the Heart in the Christmas Art. CPW is about helping you make the magic happen!