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Audiences Read an Actor’s Use of Space

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Keith Johnstone: Impro

May Day Parade, South Minneapolis, 2013

May Day Parade, South Minneapolis, 2013

When I was commissioned to write my first play I’d hardly been inside a theatre, so I watched rehearsals to get the feel of it. I was struck by the way space flowed around the actors like a fluid. As the actors moved I could feel imaginary iron filings marking out the force fields. This feeling of space was strongest when the stage was uncluttered, and during the coffee breaks, or when they were discussing some difficulty. When they weren’t acting, the bodies of the actors continually readjusted. As one changed position so all the others altered their postures. Something seemed to flow between them. When they were ‘acting’ each actor would pretend to relate to the others, but his movements would stem from himself. They seemed ‘encapsulated’. In my view it’s only when the actor’s movements are related to the space he’s in, and to the other actors, that the audience feel ‘at one’ with the play. The very best actors pump space out and suck it in, or at least that’s what it feels like. When the movements are not spontaneous but ‘intellectual’ the production may be admired, but you don’t see the whole audience responding in empathy with the movements of the actors.

–Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (NY: Theatre Arts Books, 1979) 57

Actors act on something the rest of us respond to without knowing why.

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

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  1. […] around Improv, which seems the perfect gateway for anyone to learn the fun of collaboration. And Keith Johnstone seems to have spawned many thinkers along these […]


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