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.