Let’s Talk about Movement and Physicality
One of the unique things about our Christmas Performer Art is that we are often up close and personal. Our performances can be in any number of settings and venues: On a train, on a stage, in a conference room, a mall, you name it. The best performers know how evaluate a setting and how to use the tools they have to best advantage. Among our skill sets are Movement and Physicality.
Before I address these in detail, it is important that for every event, every time we appear in public, we need to be clear on our goals. We should know the big five: Who, What, Why, Where, and How. For example, in a large crowd it would be less effective to focus all your energy on just one or two people the entire time. Your goal is to entertain the entire audience. If you’re working with a small number of children, your performance would not go very large. But when you are on a Parade Float, you need to project a very big presence. Knowing what you want to do, what your goals are, helps you make decisions about your presentation.
There are three key areas of movement to practice and improve on, to be your very best.
- Character Movement: How you bring your character to life, and tell a story through personal performance. This is specific to you.
- Stage Performance: How you work in the space you are given, and with the audience. This is the larger picture.
- Situational Awareness: How you deal with what is going on at the time, and deal with changes and ways to deal with problems, and take advantage of opportunities.
*Quick Tip! You can rehearse with a mirror for personal observation. Engage the assistance of a friend to get one-on-one feedback. Use a video recording to see the larger picture and place your work in the context of your space.
So what is Personal Performance?
Personal Performance includes appearances in small groups or for all interactions that are close-up and one-on-one. In these spaces, we make our Christmas Character come to life in the first person.
Every character can present a personal style. For example, let’s use a corporate event, where they want an upscale Santa. You decide to present Santa in a more regal style. How will this affect your big entrance? And how would a regal and elegant Santa work groups at a party? How does a regal Santa walk? Picture Santa walking decisively, steady, and confident. His steps are heel to toe, stance solid, his weight and shoulders back. Does this presentation appear regal and elegant? Santa surveys the crowd, uses calm and measured gestures. He makes eye contact and holds it. Nods his head when he smiles and and turns his head, and then torso, when he walks to each group of people. He might have one hand behind his back, or both hands clasped over his belly.
Each part of your body can tell a story or support an overall presentation style: The use of your eyes, angle of your head, or the speed of your gait. Practice using various styles as you move. Consider different types of grand entrance movements. Try different speeds, alter your posture, or imagine smaller and larger audiences. Do you want to appear slow and measured? Or should Santa be mischievous and light? Build your walk up from the floor: Start with the feet, add the knees, hips, torso, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and finally your head. Vary the mood. Are you able to identify whether you have a closed or open stance? Are you moving with small gestures or broad gestures?
*Quick Tip! Try different modes as an exercise. How would you show “Silly,” “Mischevious,” “Gravitas,” “Gentle,” “Get this Party Started!” vs “Let’s come together and share a story.”
Imagine the following characters and their key gestures: The Fonz with his comb; a Villain with his cigarette; a Hero when he cracks his neck. These are all visual cues that give us a shorthand to that character. Your presentation can have key gestures that help center you or transition to various moments in your performance. They can be big or small. Santa might have a signature move when he hooks his thumbs into his belt, peers over his glasses, smooths his beard, adjusts the tips of his mustache, or checks his pocket watch. Mrs. Claus might adjust her glasses, tuck a curl into her hat, straighten her jacket, or tuck things into the pocket of her apron. Elves might wiggle their nose, twirl a jingle bell, bounce on their toes, or peer curiously over Santa’s shoulder.
Examine your current performance style. You may have already incorporated gestures to center your performance. Try a few new gestures and movements. Consider when these might add to your events. When possible, make a video recording and evaluate how the gestures read from up close and from a distance.
*Quick Tip! Just as you can have a key gesture, you can have a key sound, bit of music or dialogue. Try coming up with bits to go with your gestures.
Stages vary in size and style. You might be on a raised stage, a portable riser, or just in a central clearing on the same level as your audience. The best characteristics include room to move freely, your audience is comfortable, they can hear and see you clearly, and you can establish your relationship with them.
The distances between you and the various members of your audience affect how they experience your movements and physicality. You may need to make broader gestures or alter the angle of your arms and gaze so that you can make better eye contact and interact directly with your audience. Here are ten basic tips.
- If you can’t see them, they can’t see you. Ensure that the folks in the back can see and hear you.
- Move back enough that you don’t have to turn your head too much to catch the left and right side of the audience.
- If you have audience lower than you but close, try to avoid scenarios where they are looking up your nose.
- Stay close enough that the folks in the front feel engaged. You gain energy moving forward and depth moving back. You can play with both, but try to establish a happy medium.
- If you move from one side to the other, turn your head first, then torso. Always return to center. Avoid swinging back and forth quickly. As you stand, you can avoid being “flat” by angling your torso slightly when your face is directly forward.
- Pauses are your friend. When we rush, the audience can miss things. When we pause, we let the moment sink in. Rapid and fast movements may not be seen clearly.
- The bigger the audience, the harder it will be for them to see nuanced facial expressions and small gestures. Learn how to dial up your actions in a bigger space. Definitely get feedback from a friend or partner. The bigger the venue, the more definitive your movements need to be. But don’t lose being genuine in exchange for being bigger.
- Focus on angling your face towards your audience. Try to avoid blocking other performers.
- Gestures that start from the center of the chest are often seen as building sincerity, “from the heart.” As you move, focus on your center and moving from there.
- Have purpose as you enter and exit. Come in and hold the stage, look at your audience. And if they applaud as you about to leave, acknowledge their expression. Then clear the stage completely, to finish the transition.
*Quick Tip! Find an empty stage somewhere, bring a friend, and have some fun with it. Play “Hot and Cold” and try performing from different places with your assistant in different parts of the audience. Have them to give you feedback as you try singing, speaking, and projecting your voice.
Your movement and presence establishes your character. In addition, the world around you contributes to the experience. When the audience is made of small children and we can work up close, we use smaller and gentler movements. At a large corporate event, we can increase our movements to be much bigger and more grand. Within that context, we must remain situationally aware. When loud noises intrude, whether that’s the espresso machine at the corporate gig or the jet engines flying overhead when you are outside, take the time to pause or adjust your speaking volume. When your gathered crowds shift to one side of the space, you can move to join them and center in the new stage space. Work with your environment. You might be able to put a foot up on a railing or lean against a post. Take the time to practice these so they come across as natural movements and not contrived or affected. Whenever possible, examine the venue in performing conditions.
Things to Watch For in a Space
Always try to look over the venues for your events. If you can walk through the space, you can spot adjustments you need to make. If you cannot afford to be seen, try to have someone else look over the space. The following are your key concerns.
- How you will move around in your performance space? Do you need to negotiate through tables and chairs? Is there a crowd and do you need a handler to help get through the space? Should someone clear an aisle first? Watch for items that might snag clothing. If you need to open a closed door, ensure that it opens easily and is not blocked.
- Be very conscious of lighting. If the lighting is inconsistent, find the well-lit areas and avoid being shrouded in shadow. While it might be tempting to avoid a spot light, your audience should be able to see your eyes. This also affects photos and video recordings, if you are not well lit.
- Pay attention to how the space affects sound. You might notice dead zones, squeaky boards, short cables on the microphone, or the position of any speakers.
- Any environment can have surprises. Someone might roll back a sectional wall, the band may enter in the middle of your story time, or new characters walk in to upstage you (heaven forbid, Elsa walks in). Your goal is to hold their attention throughout your performance. Your reaction may vary depending on the level of distraction, whether you ignore or acknowledge what has happened. You can change your volume or pace, you can engage another character, or you can shift your activity to capture the audience’s attention again.
- Be aware of the entrances and exits of additional performers, audience, or event participants. Try not to upstage others when they are the focus. Support the focus by angling your own body and attention on the current key event.
- Watch for audience moments when you can offer assistance to someone. If needed, call for an assistance to help someone find a seat or negotiate through a space. When you show the audience that you care about even the least of them, it can really pay off.
Learning to work with your physicality and movement can increase your confidence and improve your experiences, event after event, year after year.