Student actors tend to keep their limbs close to the body. When we think about creating physical pictures on stage, one of the easiest ways to present depth is through extension. How can we encourage students to extend away from the body?
Start out with your favourite physical warm up to get students up and moving. After the warm up, instruct students to begin walking around the room in neutral when you say so. Neutral means they walk as a steady pace (no shuffling) with their arms at their sides (not in their pockets). They must keep quiet and keep their heads up. They are to focus on moving around the room and filling up any empty space they see. They can’t walk with friends or follow anyone, but must focus only on their movement. This should keep students from banging into one another.
Also establish that they will be given instructions as they walk. They should just focus on their movement and listen to the instructions as they keep moving.
Once you have established neutral movement, instruct students to move as if their arms and legs are sewn to the body. Imagine that your arms and legs are bound to your body. What is it like to move this way? How does that affect movement? What do you have to do to get around the room? Ask students to think about what kind of character would walk like this? Give a name to this character. Think of a voice for this character. Introduce yourself to someone as you walk around the room.
Instruct students: If I tap you on the shoulder, that cuts the ties that keep your limbs close to the body. Your arms are floating away from your body. Your legs are light and they glide away from your body. Keep that image of floating at the forefront of your mind. Keep your arms floating away from your body. Think like a dancer. Legs gliding as you walk, with arms floating and everything away from the body. Think about what kind of character moves like this. Give a name to this character. Think of a voice for this character. Introduce yourself to someone as you walk around the room.
At this point, some students will be floating and other students will be bound. Instruct students: If I tap you on the shoulder, that cuts the ties that keep your limbs close to your body. You are going to sharply punch out with your limbs, like a hero or a military man. Elbows out, hands on hips, straight legs wide whenever you stand. Think like moving with a punch. Punch out as you move with your limbs, keep them away from your torso. Think of the type of character who would move this way. Give them a name and a voice. Introduce yourself to someone as you walk around the room.
Have students switch their physicality. If you are bound and tightly confined to your body, either float or punch your limbs away and take on this character. If you are a character who punches, now either float or become bound. If you are a character who floats, become bound or punch out. How does your character’s personality change when you take on this physicality?
Discuss the three physicalities afterward (bound, punch, float). What was it like to force yourself to move your limbs away from the body? What is the difference between floating with the body and punching with the body? Why might it be important to give a character an extended physical body? How can you use this exercise in your future work?