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Burke Moses

Trick Three

KNOW Gesture “You’re here to sweat. This program is live. There’s about one thousand million people watching you. So, remember, one wrong word, one foolish gesture, and your whole career could go down in flames. Hold that thought, and have a nice night.” –PAUL HOGAN.

EXERCISE You’re going to need both hands for this exercise, so place this book on a table, and stand close enough to read. Ready? -Hold both hands out waist high, elbows bent and palms-up. Gesture each, or both hands forward a few inches, and do so repeatedly. There, you are now “Passing Muffins” (bran, blueberry, banana walnut?) -Same position but palms down. Gesture each or both hands a few inches forward, and repeat. Now you’re “Hangin’ Ten.” Gnarly, dude! -Same position, palms down, and now one hand at a time, turn each palm up, and repeat. You’re “Flippin’ Pancakes.” -Elbows bent, clasp both hands together before you, and interlace fingers to make one large fist. Pump your hands slightly up and down, and you’re “Churning Butter.” -Keeping fingers interlaced, but extend both index fingers out pointing, and pump hands again. “Church Steeple.” -Arms relaxed, now raise them straight out to each side, and then let them fall, slapping the sides of your thighs. WHAP, you’re “Jimmy Durante!” This Material is Copyrighted

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EXERCISE (continued) -Make hands flat with fingers together and gesture like giving a stump speech: “Politician!” Now, while reciting the ABCs, combine all gestures: Flip Pancakes, Hang Ten, Pass Muffins, Churn Butter, etc. Congratulations, you’re now gesturing like most musical theater performers, aimlessly and pointlessly! Question: When combining all the examples above, which gesture was most important? None of them, of course, those types of gestures have no importance. Such movement is never motivated and always extraneous. Utilizing so many gestures makes them all insignificant. EXERCISE Using just your index finger, point to an imaginary listener and casually ask, “You got the time?” Wait a second or two for the listener to look at a watch or phone, hear the answer (“quarter to five”), and then say, “Thank you.” Question: How long did you keep your finger pointed at the imaginary listener? Did you point, then drop your finger, and then ask the time? Did you point and keep the finger pointed when asking, but dropped your finger while the listener searched for watch or phone? Or did you point, ask, and keep that that finger extended until you heard the time, and then dropped it during, or after saying, “Thank you?” I’ll wager it was the last. If you did not keep your finger extended while waiting to hear the time, you broke which rule? Look to the speaker and don’t move. If this was the case, do the exercise again. Ask and point at the same time, and keep that finger pointed until responding, “Thank you.” There, you just learned a great trick and truth about the way humans use gesture, as well as utilized three primary rules of craft. You gestured (and thus acted) ON the line when asking. You didn’t act before, between or after your speech. You looked to the speaker and didn’t move while waiting to hear the answer, and again acted ON the line when saying, “Thank you.” ON the following line, hold one hand out with arm ramrod-straight as if to signal “Stop.” Keep that hand up even after speech’s end. 240

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Burke Moses

YOU:

Whoa, whoa, WHOA, hold on there pal!

Now, try it again, except this time, allow your arm to drop slowly during the speech, Ok? YOU:

Whoa, whoa, WHOA, hold on there pal!

Weird, eh? Like diminishing volume when asking a question, it doesn’t feel right to drop gesture mid-thought. It plays against the action: stopping your scene partner. Unless they have a habit of moving constantly when speaking, real people use gestures for a reason. Typically, they freeze gesture at thought’s end. Only after hearing the answer to their question or subtext question, do most people drop a gesture. This works beautifully on the musical stage! Gesture supports ideas. If you tell someone to drive uptown, pointing the way will make that command clearer. Gesture can be meaningful, but only if it serves a purpose. As some people say “like” four times every sentence, some also constantly gesticulate. They just can’t keep hands still when speaking. Yet gesturing extraneously is almost never effective in stage performance. Again, just because it’s real, doesn’t mean it works onstage or before camera. Most actors gesture too much, way too much! Skilled actors might gesture extraneously early in rehearsal. Yet as the process moves towards opening night, they trim physical choice and always ask… “Can I do without this gesture?” Most often the answer is “yes,” because if crafted in wordplay, words alone are usually more powerful. Like the pause, gesture can be highly effective onstage, but only if it is infrequently used, and clearly motivated by the text or action played. Watch those gestures, folks. Don’t pass muffins, flip pancakes, or churn butter. Instead, use a gesture when your character really needs to point out what’s what. Then freeze in gesture at speech’s end. Don’t let go of the gesture until it’s your turn to talk again, credibility requires you to drop the gesture, or your subtext question is answered. Use this technique even on the slightest gestures to incredibly believable effect. It’s a great trick, and a tool veteran actors use frequently in stage performance. Now, let’s talk about truly exciting and compelling movement, the kind we’ve always desired to display on the musical stage! This Material is Copyrighted

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Trick # 3 - KNOW Gesture