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  • The Period Movement Score: Embodying Style in Training and Performance
  • Jennifer Martin (bio)


Style remains a central challenge in producing non-contemporary dramatic literature. For actors, the challenge is to integrate their physical characterizations with behavior particular to the historical period of the play. When the movement conventions of a period are markedly different from their own, actors’ attempts to incorporate them often result in stilted movement choices unconnected to the emotional life of the character. These choices appear “stuck on.” As a result, acting teachers, coaches, and directors often opt to allow the costume to determine the period movement. While clothing does shape movement, costume alone does not suffice to reveal the full behavior and social conventions that characterize most periods. For example, in a Georgian comedy, more than Georgian dress is necessary to reflect how and why people behaved as they did in late-eighteenth-century England. In Style for Actors, Robert Barton defines style as “the way something is done rather than the core thing itself” (1). If actions such as standing, walking, gesture, greeting one another, and using social codes of behavior are regarded as “core acts,” then the way they are done can be described as the period movement vocabulary. This physical vocabulary helps define the period style of the play.

During the past twenty-five years, I have had the opportunity to teach or coach style in a variety of both academic and professional theatres. 1 In production, some directors provide only one rehearsal to “give them all they need to know” about period movement. Though such a session can give little more than an introduction, it is sometimes the only interaction I will have with the actors until a coaching or note session after run-throughs. Rarely have I worked with actors who, after only a short introduction, have a process through which they can embody the physical vocabulary of a period. Those few who have such a process make choices congruent with life in the period; those left to their own instincts often behave as if they live in one time and place but happen to be wearing the clothing of another. A consistent movement style for the [End Page 31] production as a whole rarely results from such an approach. To address this concern, I have developed a process for embodying the physical vocabulary of a period, a process I call a Movement Score. Actors can usually learn a score in one rehearsal even without previous experience. Once learned, the score functions as a warm-up for rehearsal and provides a framework for developing character within the context of the period movement vocabulary. While many training programs include some form of style work, few train actors in a process that enables them to integrate the period movement vocabulary of any period. 2 A number of acting style texts contain very useful information and excellent exercises for exploring period movement (see appended list). Nevertheless, however valuable it may be, an exercise is not a process. A single exercise does not provide a framework that enables an actor to research and use the physical vocabulary of a particular period. From classical Greek to contemporary plays, the Movement Score gives the actor a process.

The Movement Score consists of a three to four minute sequence of movement divided into five sections and set to music of the period. It includes the physical elements of style an actor will need to know for any dramatic work: 1) stance, 2) use of space, 3) salutations, 4) codes of behavior, and 5) use of props that are particular to the period. In class, I teach the actors to research and develop the score themselves. That process is described in the following section, “Researching a Movement Score.” However, a Movement Score can also be researched and developed by a director or movement coach and taught to the actors in rehearsal. Once learned, the score can be used in either class or rehearsal to embody the vocabulary of a period. To illustrate the use of a Movement Score in both training and performance, I will use the Georgian period (1755–1800) and a production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan...

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