Category Archives: choreography

Moves Like Sheep

When I was asked to help provide movement and choreography for some of the animal characters in the upcoming show, Babe the Sheep Pig, I couldn’t contain my excitement.  I would finally have the opportunity to explore how a farm animal like a pig or sheep might express emotions through movement that could range from despair to jubilation.
Perhaps that sounds silly, but actors rely on much more than just their voice to portray characters.  Even with different human characters there is a wide “vocabulary” of movements that may be used in characterization.  For example, introverted characters might use subtle gestures, while the most powerful characters take up the most space.  A character’s walk is in many ways just as important as their lines.

Translating these concepts to characters from the animal kingdom proves to be a unique and thrilling challenge.   I thought it might be insightful for the audience to share my thought processes for developing this “vocabulary” of movement that is going into portraying these delightful bestial characters.

Take the sheep, for example. They are mostly calm and placid and they desperately want to stay in their herd. They are almost unmoving statues when standing together in a close knot.  When presented with a threat that could be dangerous, they move away.  First slowly and then at a full run if the threat gets too close.  Sheepdogs use this behavior to their advantage to drive herds of sheep from pasture to barn.

The sheepdogs  are the monarchs of the farmyard.  They are full of energy, their eyes darting from place to place always looking to keep the livestock in line and be helpful to their masters.  Dogs have a unique canine smile and carry their heads high in pride, particularly when they are hard at work.

Finally, the character of Babe is a unique challenge.  The character has a porcine gait, but the pig’s circumstances change dramatically through the story.  How does a pig look when it is sad? Does a pig trot differently when it is really trying hard? How does a pig show the uncertainty of fear or the thrill of victory?  You’ll have to come to the show to see for yourself. As you watch, be sure to think about all the hard work the actors put into imbuing these animal characters with movements that identify them as the animals they portray, while delivering their lines and exercising their craft.

Andrew Smith
Choreographer

Twitter Talk

At DreamWrights, you know me as Michelle Denise Norton, Founder and Director of Theatre Under The Trees, apprentice costumer and yawner through 8 am meetings. On Twitter, I am @mdnightmaverick, insomniac, enthusiast, conversationalist, In the Bleak December author, artist, animator, camera ace, director of Shakespeare (+ shorts), @blinkkittylove, etc.. Twitter has enabled me to collaborate with people across the country, make friends internationally and have a community of support I might otherwise be lacking as a freelance writer, artist and theatre professional.  I have heard people express puzzlement and dismay over social media, but it can be a valuable tool to have available.

twitter

The first thing to remember is that Twitter, where I spend most of my internet time so my focus will be there, is talk.  #justtalk if you want a hashtag. It is you interacting with other people, in shorter snippets perhaps than if you were interacting over tea in the same room, but it is still conversation. The rules of common courtesy still apply. Trusting your instincts is still essential.  But so is having some fun and finding like minded spirits who may inspire you.

People may try to sell you industry jargon and there are those using social media who are more corporate bot than individual, but the people you want to connect to are the ones who will talk to you.  Because whether you meet someone in person or on line, it’s talking and shared experience that create a connection and those connections can be a strong part of your network as an artist.

I have gotten paid jobs via Twitter.  I follow theatres, actors and directors in places other than America.  I read reviews of shows being done in places like China and add that to my general theatre knowledge and inspiration pool. I am currently researching the all female Takarazuka Revue in Japan to add some texture to how I approach Rosalind in As You Like It this summer. I share the things that I find interesting and enjoy when others do as well.  When I have a free Thursday afternoon, I participate in the HowlRound* weekly moderated Twitter discussion.

So, here are my guidelines:

  1. Stay Safe. If someone makes you uncomfortable, block them. Immediately.
  1. #hashtag. They’re fun.  Every show I direct, I create a specific hashtag so people can follow the progress on Twitter or my blog.  It started with Merchant of Venice aka #merven.  For As You Like It, I’ll probably stick with the short and simple #ayli.  My favorite so far was #EPHvSYR, which represented our soccer mad take on Comedy of Errors.  It’s a good way to organize thoughts.  It’s also a good way to find people to follow.  I sometimes read through #theatre or #Shakespeare posts to see if anything interests me.
  1. Don’t just promote your projects. Interact. Retweet someone else’s project every once in awhile.  Share things about what you’re doing, watching, reading…yes, even eating.  Behave like yourself while remembering that Twitter especially is a public forum.Don’t be afraid to talk to people — or ask for help.  I read somewhere that Twitter is like a party where you could walk up and talk to anyone. I think that’s a good analogy.
  2. Tempest Storm

    And if you’ve built a connection with someone, asking for help is the same as asking any other friend or colleague.  Part of why the dance in The Tempest worked so well was that I asked @KristynBurtt, a Los Angeles based entertainment reporter and dance aficionado for advice about choreographers who might work with a jazzy score.  She suggested Bill T. Jones and my research into his career and life gave me the vocabulary to have the conversations I needed with Kim Greenawalt, my choreographer — I’d kept in touch with her on Facebook after she performed as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…double social media score.

2012 Mid Summers Night Dream
  1. Pictures boost interest.  Take a shot of rehearsal or the script you’re working on or a half built set.

Have fun. Be yourself.  Find organizations and people who interest you and follow them.  Talk.  Learn. Laugh.

*HowlRound is ‘a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community’ based at Emerson College in Boston.

Michelle Denise Norton, Creative Engine

Four Tips for Nailing your Dance Audition

Grease Audition Team

So you are excited for the next DreamWrights show auditions, but you realize that there will be dancing and you are worried that the audition team and choreographer won’t like what they see.  Here are some tips about what your choreographer is looking for and how you can make the most out of your audition.

 

Choreographers want to see how you naturally move

Maybe you’ve never taken a dance class.  It doesn’t matter.  Even if you don’t know your pirouette from a grapevine, if you know how to shift your weight you’ll do fine for a DreamWrights show.  Come ready to dance.  If you aren’t dressed to dance it is a dead giveaway that you can’t or don’t care to.  Stay loose and just do your best to put your feet and hands where they should be on the appropriate beats.  Your natural instincts and reflexes should take over from there.

Choreographers are looking for how quickly you can learn the work

The audition starts the moment you start to learn the sample combination.  The quicker you can pick it up, the more valuable you’ll be as a performer.  Even if you don’t feel like you are naturally gifted at dancing, if you can demonstrate that you can remember what comes next you’ll have a huge advantage over performers who are tourists in the dancing portion of the audition.

Choreographers are looking for performers with poise

Choreographers know that everyone screws up every once and a while.  The faster you can get back into the combination after making a mistake the better.  Don’t wince or indicate any displeasure, and you might find that the audition team might not even know you made a mistake.

Choreographers are looking for performers who “make it a moment”

2015-07 Andrew Smith

When a choreographer says “make it a moment”, they mean that they want to see you be aggressive and stretch to reach each step to make it as big as possible.  Own the combination and actually perform it rather than just going through the motions.  Stick the beats, and extend energy away from your body like a superhero when you reach and point.  Be authentic and enthusiastic!  Don’t groan and look pained.  Overall, have fun and accept your dance audition as a new challenge.  If you approach it as a great opportunity rather than a chore, you’ll find that you can get the most out of your theatre experience.

Andrew Smith
IT Professional by day
Choreographer by night