Are you getting typecast? Do you want to beat it? Keep reading.
My first job (outside of a radio studio – I started with the BBC Radio Rep in 2000) was at the Hampstead theatre with the wonderful Mike Alfreds.
Having just trained for 3 years, I was blown away by my ‘re education’ that happened fast under his guidance. Who knew that you could approach acting methodically AND receive massive freedom at the same time? Who knew you could ACTUALLY hold onto an objective throughout a scene and not just talk about it in rehearsal to sound like actors. Most importantly, who knew that there was a way to adapt your energy quickly and specifically, making you appear to be physically, emotionally, vocally and psychologically different.
This was a revelation to me. Having a reliable and accessible method of breaking my habits in all these areas and stretching the boundaries of my casting was so exciting!
What was this approach? Laban.
We touched on the work of Rudolf Laban at drama school but never the ‘8 Efforts’ that were to be his greatest gift to movement. Laban established that movement can be broken down into 3 qualitative categories:
Each of these categories is defined by its own qualities:
When placed together in different combinations, these ‘sub qualities’ make up 8 distinct expressions or ‘efforts’.
PUNCH: Direct, quick, strong
DAB: Direct, quick, light
PRESS: Direct, sustained, strong
GLIDE: Direct, sustained, light
SLASH: Indirect, quick, strong
FLICK: Indirect, quick, light
WRING: Indirect, sustained, heavy
FLOAT: Indirect, sustained, light
Using movement based exercises, you can learn to generate these efforts internally leading to an inner sensation that bleeds into your emotional and physical life ‘in role’.
It is fascinating to watch and wonderful to do.
Mike used this approach to enable us to develop specific and appropriate physical and psychological characteristization which can effectively be switched off or on. His plays often involve traditional storytelling methods like multiple roles played by the ensemble with little to no costume or props.
The transformation from one distinct character to another can be done in front of the audiences eyes with every new choice being fully accepted by the observer without hesitation.
This is obviously useful in so many ways. Firstly, when it comes to ensemble storytelling, the adaption from one ‘specific effort’ to another enables the actor to make bold choices to help support the audience’s commitment to belief even and especially when the audience saw you play someone entirely different just a moment ago.
The joy for me with ensemble based work is often the very act of watching one actor ‘become’ so many different people. It is such a delightful thing to see an actor do what they do best – use their physical instrument to transform in front of the watchful gaze of an audience. In many ways it is more satisfying than a film performance under CGI and prosthetics.
The second useful thing from the actors point of view is to be able to challenge what is expected of them in terms of casting. For more on this see …..
The point is that our individual energy can lead us to be seen and held in a particular light. Whether that is as the ‘wiley servant’ or the ‘flirty barmaid’, the ‘sophisticated business woman’ or the ‘grouchy old man’. There is no end to the categories that we can find ourselves stuck in and, while many of us are delighted to just get offered work at all, we do eventually seek greater challenges and further stretching.
It is not often that we are given the chance though. Having taken work to pay the bills, we can, sadly, help strengthen the case against us because we keep saying yes to roles that are similar. I am not criticising anyone for that by the way, I have done it myself (I have played Puck 4 times professionally) and again, I am just happy to get the work.
However, if we want to break the chains, self forged or otherwise, there is a way. By developing our understanding and practice of Laban’s efforts we can generate almost completely different performances that take us far away from our ‘resting energy’.
Locking onto a different effort creates an entirely different engine inside us, so to speak. This new drive affects our rhythm both physically and psychologically, enabling us to surf a new wave and release fresh and surprising energies. We even find that our thought life changes!
I challenge anyone to explore ‘pressing’ and not feel more confident or hard nosed. Equally, ‘gliding’ does nothing other than mellow our minds.
For fast, effective character development, look no further than Laban.
To you, the artist.