Use of Space and Proxemics are important but often underused terms. Especially when rehearsing or considering rehearsal techniques for preparing a performance. Although related to each other, they are actually two different things. The term Use of Space refers to the way in which the actor and director decides to use the space on the stage. This not only includes the positioning of the actors but also of any set and props used. The term Proxemics refers to the use of space between actors and how that use of space communicates their relationship to the audience. Both of these terms are very valuable to the Drama students vocabulary and should be considered every time a piece of drama is created. Yet, it is also very easy to take them for granted. After all, whenever you create drama you use the space around you without thinking. Here are three ways of experimenting with the use of space and proxemics. These exercises will help students to make informed decisions instead of accepting what they create first time round.
Using Proxemics to explore character relationships.
Ask the students to work in pairs and give each pair a piece of script. The script needs to have some sort of emotive quality, like an argument or the two characters declaring their love for each other. An example might be the scene in Romeo and Juliet when they first meet.
Ask the students to start four steps away from each other.
When each actor says their line, ask them to step forward if they say something loving, kind or affectionate. Or ask them to take a step back when they say something which is shy, reserved or modest. Make sure that not only are the students moving but they also add other gestures to show their characters mood.
Let the scene play out, moving backwards and forwards according to their lines.
If the two characters want the same thing, then they will end the scene pretty close together. If the characters want different things (one wants an argument but the other doesn’t) then the distance will remain the same or be even further apart. Whatever the scenario, the distance between the two characters has now started to communicate some of the relationship between them.The scene that they’ve created can then be developed, rehearsed or improved into something that can be performed.
Using Proxemics to explore a character and an object.
Sometimes when a character is on stage on their own they need to create movement and use the space around them to communicate.
Start by asking the student to place the object somewhere on the stage. Or if it is not a real object, then ask them to visualise an object that sums it up and then place it somewhere on the stage. For example in Macbeth when Macbeth imagines he sees the knife, place it somewhere on stage. This will mean it can become a point of reference for both the audience and the actor.
Before you begin the activity, establish what you want the objective for the action to be. It might be for the character to acknowledge the object but try to ignore it, or to hold it at the end or to hold it in the middle before dropping it again at the end.
Ask the actor to move towards, around or away from the object. Use the language of the monologue or soliloquy to guide when and where the movement should take place. Keep in mind the objective when doing this. It might transpire than once you start moving your objective is adjusted or completely changes.
Use of stage space
There is a game that is often played called Balance The Space (and many more variations). It asks the students to walk around the space but maintain a balanced level of space around them and around the room at the same time.
If we take that principle of maintaining an equal balance of space used across an area of space and apply that to the way the group of actors use the stage space, then we have another good way of experimenting with the use of space. This especially works with large groups of characters on stage, such as scenes from DNA for example.
In such a scene, it can be difficult to see where the flow of dialogue is going. It can also be hard to see how characters become involved or detached from the main thrust of the conversation.
Ask the students to imagine that there is a circle Centre Stage to Centre Stage Front. It is large enough for two or three actors to occupy and talk. You can stand on the edge of the circle, but if you want to participate fully by saying more than one line you need to be in the circle.
The rehearsal strategy works like this. Everyone starts outside the circle, evenly space around. The first person to speak goes to the edge of the circle to say their line. The second person to say their line does so on the edge of the circle too.
Once an actor says a second line and is directly engaged with the central flow of the conversation they enter the circle.
If an actor is about to get involved in the conversation then they need to get close to the circle. They then say their first line on the edge of the circle and then enter it (or leave it if they are only saying one line towards it).
If an actor is finishing their engagement with the main flow of the conversation (even if they are going to re-join it later) then they leave the circle.
Meanwhile, all the actors outside of the circle adjust themselves so that balance remains equal across the space. Actors must also consider how they feel about the conversation. There might be a character who always listens but never participates so spends most of the time near the circle but never in it. Or it might be a character angry by the conversation darts in and out from far away from the circle and then into it.