Stage Movement & Blocking: Definition & Rules

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  • 0:04 Blocking
  • 0:56 Stage Directions
  • 1:58 Movement & Power
  • 3:00 Blocking Positions
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson introduces the concept of blocking and stage movement, discussing what it is, who creates it, stage directions, orientation, and what the movements convey.

Blocking

Ever watch a grade-school performance and observe how even the best delivered lines seem empty? This is not to say that the children are not adorable or that they did not do their best. Instead, it's that something is missing from the performance, something that might not be easy to define. Here's a clue, it involves the body language of the actors.

The way actors' bodies help to tell the story is a direct result of a process called blocking. Used early in rehearsals, blocking is the planned physical motions of actors that aid the storyline, convey the subtext of the dialogue, and help to focus the audience's attention. It's a collaborative process between the director and the actors, that emphasizes what the characters might naturally do in any given situation. In major theatrical productions, every movement, or lack of movement, on stage originates with this planning process, including the proximity of the actors to other actors.

Stage Directions

The first step in blocking, which takes place long before the nuanced planning of expressions and positioning, is learning where to stand and where to move. This involves stage directions, or precise language about the parts of the stage and directional movements. Center stage is located in the middle of the stage, where the actors are centered in every direction and facing the audience. Actors are downstage when they're moving toward the audience and upstage when they're moving away from the audience. Stage left is when actors move left; this position is also know as house right because they're located to the audience's right. Conversely, stage right refers to moving toward the actor's right, or house left.

This approach helps to divide the stage into nine sections, like a tic-tac-toe board. Naturally, center stage is the middle section, and any movement toward the audience from center stage is down center, while movement away from the audience is up center. Stage left and stage right are horizontally level with center stage. Lastly, the corner sections are up right, down right, up left, and down left.

Movement & Power

Moving to or from different parts of a stage results in more powerful or less powerful movements. A movement that approaches the audience expresses power, while a movement away from the audience expresses weakness. Similarly, a horizontal motion towards the center of the stage expresses more power. Conversely, a horizontal motion away from the center expresses less power. Performers use their understanding of movements and power to add emphasis to strong statements or important plot actions. They can also express weakness or a low point in a character's experience. Given the strong or weak aspects of body language, it becomes clear how actors, even without dialogue, can tell an entire story through motion. This diagram assigns a value to movements with more or less power. More powerful movements have green arrows, weaker movements have red arrows, and neutral movements have black arrows. The numbers give the value of the movement: in the following image, -2 is very weak, -1 is weak, 0 is neutral, 1 is strong, and 2 is very strong.

Diagram of strong and weak movements

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