Saturday, June 24, 2006

Can You Handle It?

Sometimes a better acting experience is not about profound thought patterns or earth shattering introspection. As often as not it is the practical concepts that seem so minor that actors become complacent about them, assuming they need not put much effort into something so deceptively insignificant.

One such often-overlooked concept is use of the hand prop.

“Oh, it’s just a (fill in the blank) I hold in my hand during a scene. I won’t need to worry about it until tech week.”


Or maybe, putting in a good performance on stage already requires so much concentration and presence in the moment, that the slightest weight shift in any direction can capsize the ship.

Whenever I know in advance I am going to have a hand prop to work with during a scene, I start working with it (ousableable substitution) as soon as I am off book. Sometimes even before I am off book. Not only that, I tend to walk around the theatre with it when I am not on stage. If the prop happens to be a household item, I have even been known to walk around my house with it in my hand.

Why? Practicality, my dear blog readers.

The more we get used to an object being in our hand, the more comfortable we are with it. We become more aware of its balance in the hand, it’s texture, it behavior when tossed about, or moved from hand to hand. Off stage, such details about an object are not that important in general. We need only pick up the thing, and go. But I am talking about “stage comfort”, which requires about 50% more awareness than everyday comfort requires. A good performance is about being in control of all aspects of what you are doing. This means knowing all of those characteristics about an object you are called upon to use or hold.

Not only that, if you get to know your character and learn your lines while making use of such objects, your mind will associate possession of that object with doing the scene. It will soon be as automatic a part of your presentation, as the voice you use, or the inflection of a line reading.

Small holes sink big ships, they say. I have seen the delayed introduction of even the smallest of hand props prove this euphemism true time and again. Take things in hand as soon as possible.


Anonymous said...

I am used to using something in a prop's place. For example, if I am using a prop that is being made or is hard to find, I will find something else to use for the time being. Even though I am not working with the exact prop I will be using for the stage, I get used to having something in my hands.

Susan Abraham said...


You record such intricate and finely-tuned details on the wider aspects of theatre life sometimes overlooked by critics and specialists; that I'm sure any interactive community forum as pertaining to stage art or even highbrow theatre magazines would be glad to have your very clever and sensible articles on board.

Each of your introspective posts so far has probed deep thought on what is often the lesser-known road of theatre life, and especially to its admiring audiences.

Ty Unglebower said...

Thank you again, Susan. I only hope my writing remains worthy, of the high praise you bestow upon it. =)

Susan Abraham said...

Oh Ty...of course, I have written out my own observations and nothing more.
If you expound on this trait that has probably been sharpened by your passion for this looming performance in particular,
I think you would do well as a theatre critic.
I know that this post itself as an article would be easily grabbed by editors, for its offering of an unusual theatre slant.