Monthly Archives: September 2012

Stage Presence — To Be “Present” Onstage

“Stage presence” probably makes you think first of a performer with a vibrant and captivating personality.

You may think of someone who “sparkles” onstage, with expressive eyes, a winning smile, and effective movements. Or, you may think of a powerful personality who takes command of the stage the minute they enter, in a dramatic and forceful way, or even more amazing, with a quiet, deliberate, and thoughtful manner. The great Ethel Waters could do it all superbly.

If you do a search for “stage presence” on the internet, you will find numerous articles on the subject aimed at actors, dancers, singers, and musicians — anyone onstage.

And that’s where I want to go with this blog entry — “anyone onstage” — or actually, “everyone onstage.”

I think the most difficult thing to teach a young actor (or any type of performer) is that they are “on” every second they are onstage. From the audience’s point of view, each individual on the stage, whether or not they have a line, is either adding to the production, or taking away from it. There is no neutral. The actor’s stance, their expressions, where they direct their attention, how they listen to the speaker, how they react — it all helps (or hinders) painting the picture for the audience.

Granted, if you’re a kid, that’s a tall order. It’s a tall order for a lot of adults. But, it’s our ultimate goal and one of the things we want to persistently practice.

If you are onstage, you are there for a reason. Stories often feature a “group” of some kind. The group may be orphans, or gangsters, or radio singers, or neighborhood kids, or a family of mice, or shepherds in a desert caravan. They are needed to tell the story. Each actor is important, and each actor can make an important contribution.

For example, I watched some of our co-op kids do a skit the other day. Allison, one of the girls (who had been in my drama classes for years) had no lines at the time. She was playing one of a small group of runners about to begin a race. All the lines and attention went to another girl who was portraying a self-important runner who kept delaying the race. Allison’s best moment was “sleeping” face down on the stage while the other actress delayed the race once more.

It was the way Allison “slept.” Though she was “just lying there,” she incorporated little actions that communicated great frustration. She acted. She gave it her all, but without upstaging anyone else. It was funny! It caught my attention. I was proud of her! It added to the skit. She was present!

Here’s the good news. No matter what level of experience, or skill, or “natural talent” you possess right now, you can do some little things that will begin to transform your presence onstage. Decide that you will try to do your best to think about “who you are” every time you take the stage. Remember to look at each actor as they speak — basically, just follow the action. If you do that, you will actually help direct the audience.

And, remember to try to listen to each line. It’s the director’s job to help you learn how to react to each line.

So, make a decision, try your best to be present, and you’ll end up acting!

[This is the first in a series of three related blogs directed at the actor and “being present.”]