The Weight of the Matter

Weight is always a popular topic around the New Year. But for the physical actor weight is important for very different reasons. You'll look mighty silly lifting, say, a bucket of water as if it weighed no more than a feather. And just try looking joyful while plodding across the stage with the weight of the world on your shoulders. It would be comic precisely because it is unconvincing.

In a couple weeks I'll be teaching a workshop on illusions, so this seems like an opportune moment to talk about this under appreciated aspect of creating convincing illusions, as well as its metaphoric application. Weight is the thing that takes you from understandable to believable. In mime especially it is common to settle for undstandable, but it is believable that creates theatrical magic. So here's a couple tips on creating that impression of weight.

Heavy objects require preparation. That doesn't mean 5 mins of stretching. It means you have to go a bit in the opposite direction from the way you want to lift, pull, or push the thing. The heavier the object, the greater the preparation. So for lifting that bucket of water, a slight dip with your chest will probably suffice. If you're rolling the stone away from the tomb, you'll need to bend deeper into your knees. Well, unless you're an archangel. Or Darth Vader. If you're a mere mortal, bend your knees. The same goes for a heavy emotion, though here the movement also depends on the level of stylization you want to give the performance. Think about when you have to get out of bed on a -10F day, then imagine you detest your boss and your boyfriend broke up with you last night. It's very similar to rolling a stone away from a tomb, no?

Light objects present a choice, depending on how much importance they hold. For instance, a gin and tonic you pick up distractedly requires only that you give the object its proper weight. If, however, you are holding the Feather of Hope for All Humanity, you can accentuate its symbolic importance by reflecting its lightness in the rest of your body. Generally, both light and heavy emotions should primarily effect the core and emanate from there into arms, legs, head, fingers, etc. Because flapping arms connected to an unengaged body convince no one. Which brings me to my last, but oh-so-important point.

Weight is inextricably linked with breath. This is most obvious with heavy objects, as you instinctively take a large breath before physical exertion. But it is just as true for metaphoric weights. If you can imagine the very air you breath becoming heavier or lighter to match your mood, that alone will go a long way to making you more connected to that emotion. And make you more believable. Try it.


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