This one talks about using body language and gestures.
This post is about the art of movement – not Parkour, a French term for the martial art of overcoming obstacles also known as the art of movement. Parkour is often associated with free running. It’s fun, exciting, and I’m sure it can be used for storytelling, but that’s not the quite what I have in mind for this post. Instead I’m talking about “pantomime.”
Pantomime, as according to many dictionaries, is the art of using body language and gestures to help convey actions and emotions. It’s a Greek word, which tells us that this narrative technique has been around for a long time. Instead of simply telling the audience that a mechanic is ratcheting down a bolt, you’re going to actually perform the movement and show them how the mechanic torques the wrench. Maybe the mechanic is straining to tighten it down (or loosen it for that matter) or perhaps the tool is spinning in deft hands. It depends on you and by acting out the movement you can drag your audience deeper into the story.
You can immerse the audience into the story, unless your pantomime is ill timed or too over the top. The art form is just that, an art, and it can be used too much. When that happens it becomes distracting. Once I watched a recording of myself using the technique and I didn’t make my movements big enough (on stage everything needs to be bigger). So instead of a mechanic wiping his greasing hands on a rag, I looked as if I were nervous and twiddling my thumbs. I’m not even sure the audience knew what I was trying to covey. Nerves already made me feel uncomfortable standing in front of an audience.
With my confidence depleting, the last thing I wanted to do was move around and make silly, exaggerated gestures.My professor had a good way of helping students work through that feeling of appearing foolish. But I won’t give away his trade secrets. Just remember that on stage, everyone is acting. No one sees you as being stupid, the audience just sees another actor. It’s up to you whether they believe the acting and are lost in the show.
In my case, it took me four weeks before I started using pantomime and I still haven’t mastered it. On that 4th week, I had a breakthrough performance. I decided to use pantomime, and a lot of it, for a story called “The Boy who Liked to Draw Cats.” I didn’t just tell the audience that the boy’s father was plowing the fields. I let the oxen drag me behind the old plow. I struck the earth with imaginary hoe, tending the gardens. The pantomime continued for the entire telling. In fact, I nearly lost myself in the story, and my audience did too. It was a great feeling after I finished, because I knew that it worked.
It worked that time, but as I’ve already said: it’s a delicate balance. The story itself can dictate whether you need to use it or not. Sometimes in class we would practice telling the stories sitting down, while other times we would practice using lots of pantomime. I prefer to use it, but sometimes it looks like I’m just nervous. The only way to know when and how much you should use is by practicing both ways. See what works and have someone else critique you (preferably someone who can give you an honest critique) also try video recording yourself.
Click here to read a great blog about pantomime by Carol Knarr, professional storyteller and drama specialist.