Achieving Stage Presence

Movement expressionism is useful, as a rehearsal tool, no matter what style of acting you work with. Using levels of exaggeration frees the actor to allow expression to pass through their body and, I believe, is the key to presence on stage. This is just one of the techniques we work with at Learning Through Theatre that our students find particularly useful and liberating:

The Levels of Exaggeration

This is inspired by Lecoq’s 7 Levels of Tension. We have developed this to support the study of Expressionism to explore the distorted grotesques that often feature in expressionist plays.

Level 1 – Neutral – an absence of character

Level 2 – Naturalism – everyday, internalised

Level 3 – The Twitch – bursting out, sudden spasms, repeated gestures (on the way down, this happens more naturally as you try to reign the animal in!)

Level 4 – Heightened – highly expressive; farcical; intensified character with animal-like qualities

Level 5 – Exaggerated – strange, absurd, melodramatic; human-animal

Level 6 – Grotesque – shocking; distorted; primal, animalistic, wild

Level 7 – Mie – a freeze frame; snap into position of extreme tension

There is another element that in itself is not a ‘level of tension’ but is an amplification of a tension state: ‘Slo-mo’; a heightened slow motion movement that can be thrown in at any level. The slo-mo must sustain the intensity of tension at that level. A director might call for an actor to ‘snap’ suddenly into a mie following slow-mo and then back to any given level (e.g. level 5… slo-mo … level 4)

Considering what animal a character could be likened to is an ideal starting point. Work up to level 6 where the animal qualities come to the forefront; the character becomes less human, more animal; the voice loses articulation and becomes ‘wild’. Once you have been up through the levels, go back down; the experience of returning to level 2 is greatly intensified; there is a tangible energy and power contained behind the eyes: the actor is utterly present in the moment. Don’t just take our word for it:

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