The first time that I appeared on stage, it scared me to death. I really didn’t know what all the yelling was about. I didn’t realize that my body was moving. It’s a natural thing to me. So to the manager backstage I said ‘What’d I do? What’d I do?’ ~ Elvis Presley
If only the characters in our WIP’s would move like they were nothing but a hound dog. But they’re more apt to sit on the stage and do nothing. So we have to give them something to do. We have to give them stage business.
Stage business is the incidental activity performed by an actor for the dramatic effect of creating a believable character. In other words, an actor’s movement gives the audience the information they need to interpret the character correctly.
Show, don’t tell.
If someone is nervous having them say they’re nervous isn’t near as convincing as having them fidget. Stage business (convincing character movement) seems to be the one thing usually missing from high school plays. Most of the time novice actors just hang around on stage, too afraid to move from their mark, waiting for their turn to spout their lines. This lack of natural or convincing movement is why most people would rather go to the dentist than see a high school musical. They’re boring and flat.
Same thing with our WIP characters. They come on stage, not sure of what to do. A few well chosen props or accessories can give them instant stage business.
In a monologue I do, I portray a woman forced to reinvent herself. Her internal struggle is communicated in physical movements. First, I whacked off one of the heels of her high-heeled shoes. Every step sends her limping across the stage. With this forced unnatural gait, the audience understands the full impact of the unfortunate circumstances that have sent her reeling. But when I’m ready to communicate her desire to get a handle on things, I use a shoulder bag. The character can sling the strap over her shoulder. She can pull the purse in front of her to protect her core from the onslaught of life. And she can cling, white-knuckled, to the strap when she has to confront uncomfortable situations.
Stage business. Incidental movements that add up. Give your characters something to do. Let them twirl their hair, run their finger over the rim of a water glass, jingle the change in their pockets. Or better yet, give them a costume piece or accessory that either conflicts their body movements or comforts.