What does a Movement Director do?
Part 1…. The Concept
‘The readiness is all’
Sometimes I’m am asked to oversee the development of movement and physical characterisation for the entire play, facilitating a cohesive aesthetic to the piece. Other times it’s to come in for a short period of time to provide a workshop on a specific aspect or part of the play. This may be for health and safety reasons as well as theatrical clarity, Stage fight scenes for example, for the building of a period or stylised dance/movement scene, or to assist in the creation of a chorus who share a common physicality. Maybe to help an actor age up or down, or explore the physicality involved in the characterisation of a soldier, or a long distance lorry driver … or a fish!
All that being said, we are still not getting down to the nuts and bolts of what is actually done …. that’s because each task is unique to itself, requiring research, preparation and structure … and then you have to be prepared to change tack in the moment in order to get the results needed to fulfil the brief and help the story be told.
One could spend a whole life researching the themes, symbolism and nuance in the texts of Shakespeare for example (many people have done exactly that) and still not ever get around to putting on a single play. Within Movement Direction, the onus was not about investigation. It’s about getting results, and those results have to be manifest and quantifiable. That is not to say that research and a thorough grounding in the nature, context, structure and themes within the piece is not necessary. On the contrary, being prepared and well researched, with a knowledge of the process and needs of the actor, allows for a more adaptive and creative engagement with the actors while staying focused on the task itself.
When engaging with the production, you have to be aware of the processes and systems of analysis used by both actors and directors. The truth is that I may never have met the actors before, so don’t know what they bring to the party yet. Actors, while sometimes padding out their CVs with stuff they can almost do, forget that ‘Life Experience’ and the strangest little bits of information or innate capability can be invaluable during the creation process.
In ‘Creating a Role’, Constantin Stanislavski describes the written text of a play as a complex multi layered structure of clues, to be investigated and explored in order to produce a satisfying and truthful performance.
‘A play and it’s roles have many planes, along which their life flows. First there is the external plane of facts, events, plot, form. This is contiguous with the plane of social situation, subdivided into class, nationality, and historic setting. There is a literary plane, with its ideas, its style, and other aspects. There is an aesthetic plane, with sublayers of all that is theatrical, artistic, having to do with scenery and production. There is the psychological plane of inner action, feelings, inner characterisation; and the physical plane with it’s fundamental laws of physical nature, physical objectives and actions, external characterisation. And finally there is the plane of personal creative feelings belonging to the actor.’ (Stanislavski, 1961)
These areas of analysis were formalised to assist an actor in the task of embodying a character. These same tools are used by a Movement Director as part of the process of preparation when designing and producing a structured workshop.
The first three of Stanislavski planes (external, social and literary) are held within the themes, concepts and imagery of the text itself, and can be explored before I get there. The Aesthetic plane is one to be explored and researched based on consultation with the production team, primarily the Director, as it is their role to oversee the cohesive creation of the entire vision of the piece. The areas of psychological and physical engagement can be investigated as preparatory research, but any thoughts, plans and ideas must be open to being adjusted and/or jettisoned if the actors or the Director find them unhelpful or inappropriate. Jane Gibson makes it pretty clear when she says ‘As a Movement Director, you have to leave your ego at the door.’ (Gibson,J.2009)
So the first bit is exhaustive research of the text for any and everything which might help quite literally ‘flesh out’ the story and the characters.
So what could that research look like?
I’ll do that in part 2