Using Eye and Physical Contact as a rehearsal strategy.

A rehearsal strategy is any sort of activity the helps an actor understand the character they are playing in a performance. It does not have to be something as established as Hotseating, thought tracking or improvisation. A rehearsal strategy can be something as simple as experimenting with a particular form of performance. As long as that experiment is helping you understand more about how the character moves, talks all react to what is happening around them.

One easy, accessible and powerful thing to experiment with is making contact with other characters on stage. In particular; making eye contact, making physical contact and closing the proxemics through gesture.

Eye contact is a powerful form of communication. The act of making or breaking eye contact with another character is very simple but can be powerful in how it communicates to the audience. The actor making eye contact with another character helps to establish the relationship between them. The eye contact can last a moment, or it can be sustained for a longer period of time. The length of time can communicate the intensity of the characters relationship, a shared understanding or a secret between them. The lack of eye contact is as important as making it.  Not making eye contact can communicate a bad relationship, a disagreement, lack of respect or insincerity. Nervousness or insecurity is a character trade that can be communicated to remain unable to maintain eye contact.

Likewise, physical contact can be a very powerful form of communication.  To make physical contact means that you break through the personal space of another character. Doing so can communicate tenderness, urgency or aggression.  Where you make physical contact also communicates many different things. Placing your hand on someone’s shoulder communicates reassurance. Whereas touching someone’s cheek can be much more tender and loving. The length of time that is in contact lasts also communicates to the audience. As with eye contact, the deliberate act of not making physical contact also communicated to the audience. Especially when the audience would expect it to happen, such as not comforting someone when they are sad.

Sometimes physical contact is not appropriate for the character or the relationships they have with others. Instead closing the proxemics between characters with gestures is more appropriate. Proxemics is one of the most obvious ways of showing a relationship because it is the physical space between characters on stage. Closing the proxemics between two characters doesn’t always have to involve moving closer to them but it can be gesturing towards them. Such as pointing to them when you say their name or holding out your hands to close the space between you and an and them.

In any piece of text that students are working with, be that devised or scripted, I encourage them to experiment with ways of making contact. With every line they say I remind them to experiment with eye contact, physical contact and gesture. At first, it can be difficult because they might not know their characters well. They haven’t yet developed that in understanding and how they would react. Even if they have that understanding, it is worth experimenting with different lengths of eye contact, different intensity of physical contact or different types of gesture.

These are not massive changes and they are not about learning loads of new information about a character. But they are more subtle changes and examine how a character is developed and communicated to an audience. Experimenting like this helps students to appreciate and understand their character at far greater depth.