Frequently, I am asked while directing or coaching, if we should “Add a bit of movement” into the scene or monologue. If asked about why movement should be added, it’s usually followed by a shrug and some words along the lines of “It’s getting a bit static or samey”.
Physical movement should not come from the actor or director feeling that the scene is starting to become dull. Movement in a scene should always arise as a need from the character. If they haven’t moved for a while, there is a reason. Perhaps the actor has not yet fully embodied the character’s need in the scene. Adding in a bit of movement for the sake of entertaining the audience has missed the point and the movement will probably seem odd to the audience who cannot see what motivated that movement.
Movement can be simple, think making a drink. Movement can be emotionally complex, think stroking someone’s face. Movement can be technical, think stage combat. Movement can be artistic, think dance.
If we are really pursuing our intentions in a scene, then our bodies should also be engaged. If we threaten someone, the body or at least the voice would be involved. If we are soothing someone, it almost certainly dictates getting closer to the person. Movement comes from the demands of the scene, and the character’s intentions within that scene.
Two actors standing still for an entire scene have not embraced the needs of the scene, or the dynamics of that scene. If the dynamics of the scene can cause changes of thought, emotional, energy, pace, and intention - then it’s possible too that those changes in life would be accompanied by changes in physical movement.
Too much movement is annoying. An actor who can’t stand still will constantly steal the eye of the audience, taking with them the focus for the scene. The audience will become fatigued by that actor’s movement as it keeps dragging their attention back to the extraneous and unnecessary movement.
Stillness is powerful. A lack of movement can be useful to focus attention. But most often it is a sign that the actor is not giving themselves the permission to fully follow the character’s intention and lose themselves in the imaginary given circumstances.
Movement reflects the emotional, psychological and dramatic dynamics of a scene. Don’t move because you’re worried about being boring. Move because it’s an essential part of how your character interacts with the other characters in the scene, or the ideas they are exploring in a monologue.
To You, The Best!
Acting Coach Mark Westbrook is the Co-Principal at Acting Coach Scotland