By Matt Powers

In this multi-part post, I’d like to share some insider looks, tips, and ideas about blocking. “Blocking” is a term for movement on stage, and the term comes from the stage itself. If you were to take an aerial view of the stage, and draw lines to make nine equal blocks (as in the “rule of thirds”), you will have all the stage directions (upstage left, center, and right, and so on). So “blocking”, basically, referred to moving from one block to another. Now, though, it is a more encompassing term for movement, gestures, and stage business, and is greatly informed by cultural expectations and style of theater (like naturalism, realism, surrealism, etc.).

At its base, blocking is needed to tell story. Characters need locations to enter and exit, positions for disagreements, deep kisses, and rowdy brawls. Sometimes the audience needs to see characters split, so they need to exit in opposite directions. Sometimes the audience needs to see other characters spy on each other, as in Hamlet, so they need to be positioned in a way that makes that clear. Whatever the needs of the story are, blocking is needed to make it situations and conflicts clear to the audience.

Blocking provides a foundation from which to work. It provides the dominant lines for travel, speed, angle, arc, as well as a springboard for character. For instance, if a character is going to move diagonally across the stage from upstage right to downstage left, in a straight line, without stopping, and at a swift pace, that sets a clear trajectory and will shift not only the composition of the stage, but the dynamic between other characters and the audience. This character in the distance is suddenly thrust into prominence with bold movement. If our character needed to make an important speech, this blocking provides the architecture for other gestures, even volume and tone of speech.

Blocking is also tied to character. If it has just been revealed that our our character’s pants have fallen down, and is embarrassed, this movement is a clear exit strategy, and shows a need for the character to remove themselves from that part of the stage. Along the way, maybe the character looks back a few times nervously, or stops half way, tears in eyes, and then continues forward. So blocking must align, in some way, with a character’s internal or external motivation. Moving in a particular direction, at a particular time, in a particular way must make sense for the character, otherwise it will be very difficult to justify, or make believable, that movement.

There are thematic reasons for blocking too. In the first scene of Hamlet, guards are on patrol in the foggy evening. “Who’s there?” is the first line. This opening line and scene are the first inklings of the themes of suspicion, obfuscation, supernatural, and the difficulty in knowing exactly “who” is there. A director may choose to suggest these ideas through slow, careful movements, or even no movement at all. The guard could move around the stage in a circular fashion, or a “S” shape, both of which could suggest confusion. Or perhaps the guard is jumpy, and is so surprised that his movements are quick and jagged, waving his torch (or flashlight) wildly, and amplifying the suspicion angle. The possibilities are endless, and wonderful.

Ideological perspective is also a factor in blocking. If your play requires realism, like Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, then blocking must match the movements of real people closely. If your play is absurd, like Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, movements do not need to be grounded so much in reality. If you are Bertolt Brecht directing Mother Courage, stage movements are not intentionally beautiful and are to reveal the structure of human relationships. If you’re Elia Kazan, directing Death of Salesman or A Street Car Named Desire, blocking is made with the tension of competing forces in mind.

Or sometimes blocking is there just to have fun, or because it looks beautiful, or because the audience would really enjoy it. Generally, though, blocking should efficient, compact, and suggestive. And once we have a deep understanding of the whole story, we realize that each movement on stage, no matter how small, can be used to purposely to convey as many things simultaneously as possible.

One thought on “Blocking for The Tempest 2017 Part 1

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