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On Your Way Up The Acting Ladder

Jan 3, 2008
If you are serious about acting, you will feel ready for something concrete to work on. You're all set to stand up in your room and start practicing something. Anything.

So I'll tell you how to practice standing.

You've been standing since you were thirteen months old? I wonder. But even so, stand in front of a long mirror and look at yourself in profile.

Is your head thrust forward? Are your shoulders pulled back in "military fashion"? Is your posterior jutting out astern? Are your feet pressed tight together? If that's the way you're standing - stop. Let's correct that stance right now.

Imagine you are suspended from a big hook fastened under your breastbone, or sternum. As your body starts to respond to the power of suggestion, your chest will go high. You'll grow long through the middle. The buttocks will flow smoothly in a plumb line with the rest of the body. The abdomen will flatten out. Pretty soon you'll get tired of standing like this; your shoulders will relax and come slightly forward and down.

For the time being, let it go at that. You look fine.

Suspended from an imaginary hook, with the chest high, shoulders relaxed and slightly forward, you achieve the upper part of the V-shaped torso. Complete the bottom part by pinching the buttocks together - keeping them more under than behind you. At the same time flatten the abdomen.

Having absorbed and applied these posture instructions, look at yourself in the mirror again for a checkup. What an improvement!

To appear at your best when standing - always with the imaginary concept of suspension in mind - keep

Chin level
Chest high
Shoulders relaxed and slightly forward
Spine straight
Waist long
Abdomen flat
Buttocks pinched in and tucked under
Weight resting lightly on the balls of the feet
That's good posture.

All posture instructions, unless otherwise noted, are the same for both men and women. Feminine students will soon have proof that the effect of the V-shaped posture on their figures gives them something of that Elizabeth Taylor look, that Esther Williams style.

The Venus de Milo has it too.

There's another key word - VITALITY. Its possessor radiates energy, controlled but not "switched off" in repose, animated but not uncontrolled in action. No finer example of this quality of infinite vitality exists than that which emanates from Yul Brynner.

There are a few simple observations for posture in relation to characterization.

In a straight modern role there's quite a lot of latitude regarding a man's stance, but a certain standard does exist. Ordinarily, the base, or space between his feet, should approximate the width of his shoulders.

In the classics the feet are usually close together. For a character role, the less the intelligence of the character, the wider the base. Drunks, too, sprawl with legs apart. But as sobriety and intelligence return, the base gets smaller. Loretta Young, playing a dual role in a television show, once gave a dramatic illustration of character contrast between a narrow and broad base. As a well-bred young matron, she used her own graceful narrow base, while opposite herself on the same screen she sprawled as a drunkard.

The more dignified, feminine and ladylike a female character is, the smaller the base on which the actress stands. Except to suggest tomboyishness, a rugged outdoor type, or vulgarity, an actress always stands (and sits) with feet close together.

Now let's go back to where I left you, standing up in front of the mirror with your V-shape. Tense your body in this good position till every muscle trembles. Then relax all the tension you possibly can, still retaining the exact form and posture you've been working for.

Remember to fit movements using the principles of relaxed constriction into various spare moments of your day. The exercise will serve you well in coping with bulging bay-window tendencies and broad hip problems.

Before you know it, you'll have a pleasing new posture. Always keep in mind: an actor must look symmetrical - must look EXCITING.
About the Author
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